EEOC Suit Charges Ore. Nursery with 'Severe Sexual Harassment'

June 19, 2009 ( - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued a Molalla, Oregon, nursery owner over allegations it permitted "severe sexual harassment" of women workers, including multiple rapes of one female employee.

An EEOC news release said the allegations were leveled at Willamette Tree Wholesale, which operates 140 acres of retail nursery farmland, including a garden supply store and business office. Williamette not only allowed the harassment, but retaliated against both women and men who later complained about the treatment, the agency alleged.

The key allegations concerned a 38-year-old Latina employee who the EEOC said was taken repeatedly over several months to remote areas of the farm by the company foreman where she was raped. The suit alleged that the foreman threatened to fire the woman, threatened her with pruning shears, and threatened both her and her family.

At one point, the EEOC said, the woman fought back and was fired.

Another female worker was harassed through inappropriate sexual innuendos as well as grabbing and touching. When the woman and her husband (also a Williamette employee) complained, the couple and the woman’s brother were fired in retaliation, the EEOC said.

“All sexual harassment is unacceptable, but what happened here is unspeakable,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru, in the announcement. “This shows how dangerous a situation can become when employers are hostile to workers’ rights and sexual harassment goes unchecked. There simply is no excuse for any employer tolerating this sort of worker abuse, and enough is enough.”