Sexual Harassment in the Deboning Department

Mistakes happen to the best of us, for example, occasionally things slip through the cracks at companies when someone goes on vacation or HR gets swamped with new hires.  Yet when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment complaints employers need to be ever vigilant.  If they aren’t, the consequences of their mistakes may haunt them.

For instance, in the case of EEOC v. Farmer’s Pride, Inc., a Pennsylvania poultry processing plant came under the investigation of the EEOC after one of its male workers alleged that he was sexually harassed by his female supervisor while working in the deboning (no pun intended) department at the company’s Fredericksburg facility and his supervisor reached down his pants and touched his genitals while he was working.  The worker alleged that the female supervisor subjected several other male and female co-workers to similar harassment and that two male supervisors also acted inappropriately toward female employees.

As part of its investigation, the EEOC asked for the company to produce facility-wide information regarding whether other workers had complained of sexual harassment.  Although the company produced some information in response to an EEOC subpoena, it failed to fully comply.  The company contended that the EEOC’s investigation of the worker’s charge should be limited to the supervisors he named and the breast deboning department.  The EEOC then sued the company in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, seeking an order to show cause why its subpoena should not be enforced.

Thereafter, the court agreed ordered the company to comply with the subpoena finding that the EEOC has broad investigative authority and that the EEOC had established: (1) a legitimate purpose; (2) relevancy; (3) that the information was not already in its possession; and (4) the subpoena was not “unreasonably broad or burdensome.”  Indeed, the court found that sexual harassment complaints from elsewhere in the facility would provide context in determining whether the company’s response to sexual harassment complaints by its employees was adequate.  In other words, harassment complaints by employees elsewhere in the company’s facility would be relevant to whether the company allowed a sexually hostile environment to exist in its workplace.

Although whether the company engaged in any wrongdoing remains to be determined, the ruling on the EEOC’s right to subpoena documents regarding sexual harassment complaints on a facility-wide basis should serve as a stark reminder to employers that they need to take sexual harassment complaints seriously and have the proper policies in place for addressing such complaints.

The attorneys are Harmon & Davies are here to assist employers with all their Labor and Employment Law needs, including the handling of sexual harassment complaints and the crafting of sexual harassment policies, and protocol for dealing with sexual harassment complaints and investigations.

This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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