Federal judge issues injunction against Evans Fruit - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Federal judge issues injunction against Evans Fruit

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YAKIMA, Wash. -- A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against Evans Fruit Co. after the company was accused of intimidating their employees.

In a release sent out Wednesday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency states Evans Fruit Co. was accused of interfering with workers involved in a federal lawsuit. The Judge has barred the fruit grower from retaliating against its employees pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

In June, the EEOC filed a lawsuit against Evans Fruit after former employees came forward claiming they had been sexually harassed by management at the grower's Sunnyside farm. In the investigation, the agency stated ranch manager Juan Marin and crew leaders singled out women for sexual advances, one who was 15 years old when the harassment started. The agency stated the women were forced to quit in order to get away from the ongoing harassment. Marin, a 36 year employee at Evans Fruit, was terminated after the lawsuit was filed.

A temporary restraining order had been issued during that time against Evans Fruit and Marin, for threatening and retaliating against former and current employees who helped initiate the suit.

According to U.S. District Court Judge Lonny R. Suko in the release, the EEOC clearly showed the occurrence or threat of workers being "chilled" from coming forward with claims relating to the agency's suit.

The Court orders apply to Evans Fruit, its agents, managers, employees and the former manager Juan Marin.

"This is a major victory for EEOC because we hadn't even started litigating the sexual harassment case. All the court is doing here, is saying to the company and any agents of the company, don't intimidate or harass anybody while this litigation is going on," said William Tamayo, EEOC Regional Attorney.

The following is a statement sent to KNDO from attorney Brendan Monahan, with Stokes Lawrence Velikanje Moore & Shore, who represents Evans Fruit regarding the preliminary injunction:
"First, the EEOC has made the curious choice to try this case by press release. Today's press release was inaccurate and misleading for a number of reasons. One example is that the EEOC identifies Juan Marin as someone "who still retains a great deal of influence" at Evans Fruit. This is categorically not true and the EEOC knows it. Mr. Marin was terminated from employment some time ago, and the employees the EEOC claims to have acted on his behalf are no longer with the company. The EEOC also claims that Judge Suko's order contained "unusually strong wording". This is pure nonsense. Judge Suko's ruling was very carefully and conservatively crafted, and it went to great lengths to confirm that there were no findings of discrimination, no rulings on the merits of the case, and no final rulings on credibility. Indeed, the ruling actually notes that there was evidence and testimony that was not at all favorable to EEOC's witnesses. Finally, the EEOC predictably failed to mention that the Judge granted significantly less relief than the EEOC had requested.

Turning to the order itself: Given the testimony and evidence that was submitted, the Order does qualify as a disappointing procedural development. But that's all it is. From a practical standpoint, all it requires Evans Fruit to do is kill a bunch of trees and stuff an armful of envelopes -- and the Judge has even delayed the implementation of those requirements.

Please do take note of the fact that no owners or operators of the company even knew there was an allegation of witness intimidation until the EEOC orchestrated service of the anonymous complaint back in June. There is no evidence or even an allegation that the owners were aware of any of the charges or alleged conduct, and in fact nobody who is alleged to have engaged in any intimidating conduct is still employed at Evans Fruit. Other than the posting and service requirements (which are under reconsideration by the Judge), the Order will not impact how Evans Fruit conducts its daily business.

Substantively, we're quite pleased that the complaining witnesses have now come out of the shadows. Some of them turn out to be familiar faces with long histories of grievances against Evans Fruit that do not involve discrimination. Now that we know who they are and what they're after, we'll have the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive analysis of their stories and their histories and see how they stand up to objective scrutiny. We're looking forward to that process, and we're eager for the day that a jury will be able to assess the credibility of the EEOC's claims."

The next court hearing is scheduled for November 10, when the judge will make his next ruling on the order.

For more information on the EEOC and this investigation by the agency go to: http://www.eeoc.gov/.