Experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace is horrific enough, but
then being fired for complaining about it is the worst possible outcome.
A complaint filed by the EEOC last week against a Colorado company alleges
just such a set of circumstances.
complaint, the EEOC claims that MountainKing Potatoes, also known as Smokin'
Spuds Inc., and co-defendant Farming Technology Inc. knew or should have
known about the allegedly sexually hostile work environment created by
production supervisor Samuel Valdez at their Colorado site.
The agency alleges that Valdez, who has worked on and off for MountainKing
since 1998, directed sexually inappropriate behavior toward women employed
at the location, including former workers Rachel Cordova, Julie Cordova,
Tina Reyes and Barbara Chaparro, all of whom filed charges with the agency
alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Julie Cordova began reporting to her supervisor Samuel Valdez in December
of 2009. Soon afterwards Valdez began making inappropriate sexual comments
and gestures toward her, and at one point pulled her into his office,
turned out the lights, and forced her onto his lap. The complaint alleges
that Cordova also saw Valdez sexually harass other women employees, and
told him repeatedly that she did not like his behavior and wanted it to
stop. She was fired in June of 2010 in retaliation for her opposition
to Valdez's sexual harassment of herself and other women employees.
According to the complaint, Valdez had a habit of licking his finger and
putting it in the ears of at least two of the female plaintiffs. Valdez
also allegedly sexually propositioned some of the women, touched female
employees' buttocks while they clocked in for work.
After another employee, Rachel Cordova, opposed Valdez's sexual advances,
he allegedly forced her to work at an "unpleasant sorting station"
away from other employees, where he purportedly stared at her from a distance
while "licking his lips".
Although Rachel Cordova reported the alleged harassment to MountainKing
and FTI's management, they failed to stop it, and she was fired after
becoming angry with a supervisor's unwillingness to remove her from
the sorting station assignment, according the complaint.
Another employee, Tina Reyes, was assigned to the most unpleasant assignment
in the plant after she rejected Valez's advances. She reported Valdez's
inappropriate sexual conduct to her managers, but the inappropriate conduct
did not stop. Because she wanted to avoid being groped by Valdez, she
began to arrive at work late, when Valdez was not standing by the time clock.
After Reyes was disciplined for arriving late by her supervisors, she allegedly
informed them of Valdez's purported sexual harassment at the time
clock. Reyes was asked to write a statement about Valdez's conduct,
and the following day, she was sent to lunch while her managers considered
what to do about her report, according to the suit. But when Reyes returned
40 minutes later, she was purportedly told she was being fired for taking
too long at lunch, the agency states.
The takeaway: Things can get pretty ugly at work, and management won't
necessarily come to your defense. If you have been subject to sexual harassment
in the workplace, seek the services of a qualified employment law attorney.