The Washington State Attorney General's Office is taking an Eastern Washington vegetable harvesting company to federal court over alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women employees.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington, Assistant Attorney General Colleen Melody writes that Hermilo Cruz, a supervisor at the company, engaged in a litany of fucked up behavior, including: asking women who worked at the company for dates, sex, and intimate photographs; making comments about their bodies and "overt, sexual gestures" like "licking his lips and grabbing his groin area;" kissing and groping employees; and trying to require women to have sex with him to avoid losing their jobs. If employees rejected his advances or complained, they were disciplined or fired, the complaint alleges.
Melody's complaint alleges that the bosses at the company where Cruz worked, Horning Brothers, knew about his conduct and failed to stop it. The state also says the company has had a practice since at least 2012 of hiring women only for jobs on the onion packing line at their plant in Quincy.
Those practices, the AG's office argues, violate laws against discriminatory hiring, segregated employment, retaliation, sexual harassment, and aiding and abetting discrimination. The state seeks unspecified damages for the affected workers.
“Low-wage agricultural workers are part of a vulnerable population with limited resources. They deserve to be heard,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson in a statement. “No woman should be forced to accept sexual harassment as a condition of her employment.”
A representative for Horning Brothers could not immediately be reached for comment.
Melody leads the AG's civil rights unit, the same team of attorneys that successfully sued the Trump Administration over its travel ban and has targeted landlords for discrimination against people with criminal records.
According to data included in the complaint against Horning Brothers, about 28 percent of agricultural workers in Washington state are women.
"In Washington," Melody writes, "sexual harassment of female farmworkers is an occupational hazard that profoundly impacts women’s ability to work safely and productively in the field of agriculture."