Walla Walla Co. blueberry farm pays $350k due to sexual assault of female workers

Walla Walla
Image Courtesy of Erik Dungan, FreeImages.com

BURBANK, Wash. — A blueberry farm in Walla Walla County was ordered to pay $350,000 that will be distributed amongst women who were sexually assaulted and harassed.

The Office of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the civil rights enforcement action against Great Columbia Berry Farms LLC today. The suit alleges that former manager Jose Luis Contreras Ramirez of Great Columbia Berry Farms raped at least one former employee and sexually harassed many more over a number of years.

Ferguson says that the exact dollar amount from the $350,000 sum will be based on the extent of their involvement in this case with those who suffered the most harm being rewarded the most money. As of now, the Washington Attorney General’s Office knows that at least four women were targetted by the former manager.

“Companies that know or should know that powerful managers are harassing and assaulting their employees, but do nothing to stop it, bear responsibility,” Ferguson said. “Agricultural workers deserve to be heard — and they deserve a safe work environment free from abuse.”

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The result of today’s filing at Walla Walla Superior Court is a consent decree that will force Great Columbia Berry Farms LLC to instill new workplace practices including anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies approved in advance by the Attorney General’s Office.

Contreras allegedly participated in serious sexual perversion in the workplace including unwelcomed touching, comments and advanced for sexual favors. He used his power within the workplace hierarchy to threaten female employees who were unwilling to comply with his demands, firing at least three women who stood up to his sexual harassment.

On Nov. 2, 2020, Contreras plead guilty to three counts of felony assault after forcibly raping a female employee.

The Attorney General’s complaint claims that Great Columbia Berry Farms violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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