California food company settles sexual harassment lawsuit for $1.47 million

A California federal judge has ruled that Z Foods Inc. must pay $1.47 million to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of 10 of the company’s employees.

According to the EEOC, Z Foods’ male supervisors subjected female employees to constant sexual harassment in the form of stalking, leering and touching. Two male managers allegedly asked the employees for sexual favors in exchange for employment and promotions. Employees who reported the behavior were fired. Coworkers who complained to their employer after witnessing the harassment also experienced retaliation and termination.

Z Foods, one of the largest dried fruit processors in the United States, shut down operations in 2011. The EEOC launched an investigation into the Madera, California, company. Based on its findings, the commission filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in September 2013.

The complaint was lodged against both Z Foods and its predecessor, Zoria Farms. In 2015, Zoria Farms agreed to a five-year settlement of $300,000 in which the company agreed to implement policies to protect employees if it reopens.

“Workers have the right to voice their concerns about a sexually hostile work environment without fearing repercussions from their employer,” said Melissa Barrios, head of the EEOC office in Fresno. “With this ruling, the court sends the message that employers who ignore or punish employees who complain of harassment leave themselves open to greater liability.”

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