Lawsuit against Yakima grower nixed

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YAKIMA — A federal judge in Yakima has dismissed the second of two lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of orchard workers against Evans Fruit Co.

Ten orchard workers claimed that the Yakima-area fruit company, one of the largest apple growers in the country, had retaliated against them for meeting with representatives of the EEOC to pursue a claim alleging sexual harassment.

The EEOC sued the company in September 2011, alleging it violated federal law by retaliating against workers for cooperating in a federal discrimination investigation. Evans Fruit moved for dismissal in December 2012, arguing that the EEOC’s claims lacked any basis in fact.

U.S. District Court Judge Lonny Suko on Friday granted Evans Fruit’s motion to dismiss, saying the EEOC failed to present evidence that any of the workers had been threatened by anyone associated with Evans Fruit, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported Sunday.

The EEOC’s lawsuit alleged that an Evans Fruit ranch manager sent two people to spy on a meeting the EEOC held with employees in 2010 at a Sunnyside public library.

The judge found that no reasonable juror could find in favor of the EEOC’s claims, the newspaper reported.

The dismissal is the second blow to the EEOC.

Earlier this month, a federal jury rejected sexual harassment claims by 14 female orchard workers who said they had been subjected to a sexually hostile work environment while working for Evans Fruit. The EEOC had filed that case on behalf of the workers.

Some of the plaintiffs in that harassment case were party to the retaliation lawsuit dismissed Friday.

Suko said many of the claimants at the library meeting were not even aware that the two men were there or whether they had any connection with Evans Fruit.

“Without admissible evidence of threats, there is simply nothing to connect alleged pre-meeting and post-meeting acts of intimidation/retaliation with the library meeting,” the judge wrote.

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