Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday that Great Columbia Berry Farms LLC, a blueberry grower in Walla Walla County, will pay $350,000 as a result of his office’s civil rights enforcement action.
The lawsuit asserts one of the company’s managers, Jose Luis Contreras Ramirez, raped at least one female worker, sexually harassed several female workers over the course of years and retaliated against those workers who spoke out against his conduct. At least four women were affected by Contreras’s conduct.
According to a news release from Ferguson's office, the entire $350,000 settlement will go directly to the women harmed by Contreas and the Great Columbia Berry Farms. The company must also adopt anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies and trainings, approved in advance by the Attorney General’s Office.
“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.”
136-acre farm in Burbank, Washington, employed Jose Luis Contreras Ramirez as a supervisor and manager. According to the state’s complaint, filed today along with the consent decree, Contreras oversaw operations at the farm and had the authority to hire employees, make job assignments, fire employees and determine who would be offered work the following season.
From at least 2012 to 2019, Contreras subjected several female employees to severe, pervasive and unwelcome sexual conduct, including unwanted touching, sexually charged comments about his employees’ appearance and repeated demands for sex. On at least two occasions, he forcibly raped an employee, for which he was later charged with two counts of second-degree rape. On November 2, 2020, he plead guilty to three counts of felony assault.
In October 2019, Contreras was arrested for sexual assault charges in a criminal proceeding in Walla Walla County in connection with the rape of one of the women he supervised. He has not worked at Great Columbia Berry Farms since his arrest.
Accoridng to the Attorney General's Office, the consent decree bars Great Columbia Berry Farms from rehiring Contreras in any capacity, or allowing him to enter the farm or have contact with any of its employees. In addition, the company is required to:
- Implement revised complaint procedures for employees to report harassment, discrimination and retaliation — including allowing these reports to be submitted anonymously and in the employee’s primary language
- Institute investigative procedures to ensure proper investigations of complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation
- Provide semi-annual reports to the Attorney General’s Office and notify the Attorney General of any complaints of discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation received from its employees
- Adopt a complete non-discrimination and anti-retaliation policy approved in advance by the Attorney General’s Office
- Provide annual trainings, conducted by a qualified and independent third party, to management on their obligations under the Washington Law Against Discrimination and Title VII, and also provide training to its workforce
- Make new policies and procedures available to its workforce in both English and Spanish.