Employment Group Gains Win

May 28, 2014

Related Practice: Employment

Stokes Lawrence’s Employment practices group has obtained summary judgment in favor of its clients Valley Fruit Orchards, LLC and Green Acre Farms, Inc. against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In a Title VII employment case filed by the EEOC in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington a Stokes Lawrence team, including Brendan Monahan, Beth G. Joffe, Justo Gonzalez and Olivia Gonzalez, obtained summary judgment and dismissal of all claims brought by the EEOC on behalf of a class of Thai workers employed by labor contractor Global Horizons, Inc. Global Horizons had assigned the Thai workers to work on Valley Fruit and Green Acre’s orchards in 2004 and 2005.

The EEOC demanded $30 million in damages before filing suit on claims of national origin harassment, constructive discharge and retaliation on behalf of the Thai workers. After three years of intense litigation, and nine years after the underlying events allegedly occurred, Stokes Lawrence filed a motion with the federal district court seeking summary judgment of the EEOC’s Title VII claims. The Stokes Lawrence team argued, among other things, that the EEOC lacked any evidence that Valley Fruit and Green Acre mistreated or discriminated against any of the Thai workers on the basis of race or national origin or retaliated against any Thai worker in violation of Title VII. The EEOC also alleged pattern and practice claims asserting that harassment and retaliation were Valley Fruit’s and Green Acre’s “standard operating procedure.”

The district court rejected the EEOC’s claims, granted summary judgment, and found that the evidence simply failed to show that either Valley Fruit or Green Acre had (1) created a hostile work environment, (2) retaliated against any Thai worker, or (3) that harassment or retaliation was a standard operating procedure.

Today's ruling is the second summary judgment ruling in this case. In July 2012 the court dismissed EEOC claims that Valley Fruit and Green Acre were joint employers on non-orchard related activities by Global Horizons.

This is the latest significant victory against EEOC claims for the Stokes Lawrence Employment practices group. Last year, the firm successfully defended apple grower Evans Fruit against sexual harassment and retaliation claims brought by the EEOC.