Two San Luis Valley Potato Packing Firms Settle Sex Harassment Claims

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
A home south of Fort Garland, Colorado, stands in the shadow of Blanca Peak in the San Luis Valley.

Two potato packing companies in the San Luis Valley city of Monte Vista will together pay $450,000 to settle allegations of sexual harassment leveled by more than a dozen women workers.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Smokin' Spuds, Inc. and Farming Technology, Inc. violated federal law by subjecting the women to regular verbal sexual harassment and unwelcome physical contact from a supervisor, and then fired three of them when they complained to management.

The two companies together do business as MountainKing Potatoes. In a statement Wednesday, EEOC said a supervisor:

"...engaged in various sexually inappropriate actions, including making sexual comments and gestures, propositioning female employees, touching them on their buttocks and breasts, and in at least one instance, pulling a female employee onto his lap.

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said the legal action is part of a pattern:

"This case is the latest in a long-series of cases challenging sexual harassment in the agricultural industry, often directed at immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, and the second sexual harassment case that EEOC's Denver office has resolved involving potato farms in the San Luis Valley geographic area."

The PBS show Frontline collaborated with the Center for Investigative Reporting and Univision two years ago on a project called Rape In The Fields, which shed light on the trend of sexual harassment of migrants in the agriculture industry.