By KAREN VELIE
A federal agency filed a lawsuit against Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles and the Wonderful Company in Los Angeles over allegations of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual touching and retaliation, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Thursday.
For more than five years, managers at the winery allegedly subjected female employees working in the production facility and at the restaurant to unwanted and repeated sexual advances, sexual comments and sexually offensive conduct. Supervisors allegedly touched female employees’ buttocks, waist and breasts, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses management of “rubbing of genitals on female subordinate employees, unwanted hugging and kissing, forcible kissing on the mouth, grabbing on the hands, snapping of bra straps, nibbling on the ear, biting on the shoulder, exposure of male employees’ private body parts, texting inappropriate photos, and stroking employees’ hair.”
Despite receiving complaints, neither the winery or The Wonderful Company took adequate steps to stop the ongoing sexual harassment. Instead, some female employees who complained faced retaliation or were forced to leave the workplace, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the claimants, including compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief against the company to prevent such unlawful conduct in the future.
“Employers who fail to take action to address sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace create an environment that encourages this behavior. As a result, employees may be hesitant to voice their complaints; however, they have protections under federal law,” said Christine Park-Gonzalez, acting district director for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Los Angeles District.