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Santa Cruz County farmworker reaches settlement in alleged sexual harassment case, state agency confirms

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KION-TV)- On Tuesday- the California Civil Rights Department announced that they have reached a $100,000 settlement after a seasonal farmworker said she was sexually harassed while working at a Santa Cruz County strawberry farm.

Officials said that the settlement was reached with Watsonville-based Ayoquezco Farms. CRD officials said the woman was hired by the farm as a seasonal strawberry picker.

The settlement still needs court approval and if it is approved, the settlement would require Ayoquezco Farms to put new policies and procedures to help protect against future investigations of sexual harassment in the workplace.

"This settlement puts robust requirements in place to prevent against future discrimination at Ayoquezco Farms and makes it clear that there are consequences for harassment," California Civil Rights Department Director Kevin Kish said in a statement.

The investigation started in Nov. 2021, when the Civil Rights Department received a complaint against Ayoquezco Farms and the owner over alleged sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation happening

The worker also claimed that just days after she was hired in 2018, she was subjected by the employee to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment by the owner.

CRD officials said that the complainant brought the matter to a supervisor, the defendants allegedly retaliated by escalating the sexual harassment and creating working conditions which were intolerable that the complainant was forced to resign.

The Civil Rights Department filed a lawsuit in 2023 after there was an unsuccessful attempt at mediation.

If the settlement is approved, the Civil Rights Department said they would require Ayoquezco Farms to implement the following practices:

  • Develop and implement company policies and complaint procedures regarding harassment, discrimination, or retaliation within 90 days.
  • Establish and put into effect investigation policies for the handling and investigation of complaints of unlawful harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.
  • Distribute information on the new policies and reporting procedures to all employees within 30 days of the start of every new strawberry harvest season.
  • Train all supervisorial and non-supervisorial staff on the new policies and on protections against harassment, discrimination, or retaliation under state and federal law.
  • Report on compliance with the terms of the settlement to CRD for a period of five years.
  • Pay $90,000 in compensation for alleged harms to the complainant and $10,000 to cover legal costs associated with the litigation.

To see the full proposed settlement, click here.

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Derrick Ow

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