Fruit processing plant sued for sexual assault, harassment

FRESNO, Calif.

The lawsuit is now on record at the Federal Court in Downtown Fresno. It claims Z Foods, Inc. in Madera County knew supervisors were demanding sex from female workers in exchange for keeping their jobs or for promotions.

"It's unfortunate that these female employees had to go work in a place that they were being subjected to such a hostile work environment, said Rumie Vuong, an EEOC attorney.

In one case, court documents claim a supervisor forced female employees to ask a woman to "have a sexual adventure" with him.

The allegations in the lawsuit are from 2007 and 2008. "The supervisors had worked for the company for quite some time, so it may have been going on before," said EEOC Fresno Director Melissa Barrios.

The packing house was once called Zoria Farms, Inc. Employees, according to the paperwork, complained to human resources during that time, but nothing was done. More complaints came in and when Z Foods bought the plant in 2008 the EEOC says managers retaliated against male workers who had complained.

"The allegation is that because they complained they were not rehired by Z Foods," Barrios said.

The documents go on to allege another supervisor began giving unwanted gifts, even "hugging and kissing female employees."

Then the EEOC says came more threats this time to fire the female worker's family members.

"It's embarrassing, it's humiliating and victims do experience trauma from that," said Community Action Partnership of Madera County victim services director Tina Rodriguez.

CAP of Madera County says migrant workers are often harassed since they may not understand U.S. and California laws.

"If you complain, make sure you document the time and date of who you complained to," Rodriguez said. "Build a written record of your experiences."

Federal law only allows the EEOC to sue Z Foods and not the individual supervisors. Since Z Foods is no longer operating Action News could not reach them for comment.

We've learned the company was never dissolved, leaving it open to this lawsuit. The EEOC is looking to stop future harassment and get monetary damages for those former employees.

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