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Fisher Nut faces retaliation charges

EEOC claims Latina employees demoted, terminated for opposing discrimination

POSTED October 2, 2010 12:50 a.m.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit on Friday accusing Modesto almond processor Fisher Nut Company of violating federal law by retaliating against Latina employees who participated in filing a discrimination claim.

“To effectively enforce the law, EEOC must ensure that workers may come forward with a claim without the fear of retaliation by their employer,” said EEOC Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo in a press release. “In this case, it was a priority to defend workers vulnerable to retaliation that could potentially be hidden by the seasonal nature of their jobs.”

The EEOC did an investigation at Fisher Nut Company after complaints were filed and found that a group of Latina employees suffered numerous consequences for having attended an informal meeting that resulted in a discrimination charge being filed with the commission.

According to the EEOC, some employees faced verbal threats and irrational warnings from their immediate supervisors; and in one case, a worker was warned for “laughing during the course of the work day.” All but one of the workers were moved from various other jobs to the entry-level almond sorting position, widely considered the least desirable work at the plant. All of the women were fired within two months of the informal meeting.

According to the EEOC, one of the women said, “At first, I did not understand why I was being transferred to almond sorting. But then I saw friends transferred there too, friends who had joined the discrimination claim against the company. We were constantly under close supervision. I felt we were being punished due to the claim we helped file. Later we were told in a meeting that we were being fired because Ron Fisher was very angry due to the discrimination claim. And after eight years of working for Fisher Nut without a single warning, I was terminated.”

Fisher said that the claims are from a few disgruntled employees and are untrue and unfounded.

“Fisher Nut Company has been processing almonds in California for over 20 years. We’ve provided hundreds of jobs for seasonal workers. We respect our employees and are sensitive to their civil rights. We will aggressively defend ourselves against these claims and we expect to prevail,” said Fisher.

The EEOC filed suit after first trying to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement with Fisher Nut Company. The EEOC is now seeking monetary relief, including emotional distress and punitive damages, on behalf of the women affected by the retaliation, in addition to an injunction to prevent a recurrence of this type of discrimination.

“Punishing the employee who participates in an EEOC charge will only multiply your problems,” said the EEOC’s San Francisco District Director Michael Baldonado in a press release.

He noted that the number of retaliation charges filed with the EEOC in 2009 (33,613) was more than double the number of sexual harassment charges filed (12,696) and has overtaken race discrimination charges (33,579) as the number one problem alleged by workers filing complaints with the agency.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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