As we discussed previously, Evans Fruit Co, a Yakima-based fruit company has recently been faced with not one but two lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of the company’s current and former orchard workers. The first suit dealt with sexual harassment claims, the second suit alleged retaliation. Both of these lawsuits have now been dismissed by a federal judge Lonny Suko in Washington for failure to present enough evidence to bring the cases.
The crux of the second Evans Fruits Evans Fruits employment lawsuits lawsuits was simple and serious: Evans Fruit orchard workers claimed that they had been retaliated against after they met with representatives from the EEOC to discuss their workplace sexual workplace sexual harassment issues issues. The EEOC lawsuits claimed that Evans Fruits not only sent employees to spy on a meeting the orchard workers had with the EEOC but that these workers were subsequently retaliated against as a result of the meeting. Unfortunately for the EEOC and workers that were party to the lawsuit, one actually has to show acts of retaliation and draw a connection to the meeting in order to bring a case.
The Seattle Times quotes Judge Suko on the second dismissal, “Without admissible evidence of threats, there is simply nothing to connect alleged pre-meeting and post-meeting acts of intimidation with the library meeting.”
So what are employee’s rights when it comes to working with the EEOC? To begin, the EEOC is a federal agency that is tasked with handling employment discrimination claims. These claims include everything from race to gender discrimination. Created by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC not only investigates issues with workplace discrimination but also oversees additional compliance and enforcement activities.
One important note to take from the recent Evans Fruit case is that just because employees have the EEOC filing a complaint for them does not necessarily mean victory, or a court date for that matter. There are certain evidentiary requirements every case must meet in order to proceed to trial. Sure it would have been illegal for Evans Fruit to retaliate against their employees for meeting with the EEOC, as the complaint suggests. But the EEOC failed to prove that any retaliation occurred as a result of the meeting.
We work with employment discrimination cases all the time and know the evidentiary standard necessary to get a case heard and ultimately get the results employees and employers are seeking. In cases in which the dismissals are a result of admissible evidence, the court does leave room to come back if and when circumstances change. No one should have to work in a work environment that does not promote equality and appropriate behavior. One important piece of advice for anyone that feels like he or she is in a questionable situation is to begin documenting the encounters and collecting evidence as best you can.