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Grape grower settles million dollar suit

December 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
A California-based grape grower has agreed to pay $1.6 million to settle a sex discrimination suit brought by six women. The suit targeted Delano-based Kovacevich 5 Farms and alleged the company would not hire women because they are lazy. The plaintiffs that spoke Tuesday allege that they were experienced as farm workers when they applied for the jobs as grape pickers.

They filed suit in 2006, and on Tuesday they say they were pleased not just with the$1.6 million settlement, but for what it will mean for other female farm workers.

Erica Hernandez is still emotional when she talks about being denied work though it happened a decade ago.

"At the time I was a single mother and would have been willing to do any agricultural work possible to support my child. I am happy that Kovacevich 5 Farms is now hiring certain number of women because we spoke up and filed a lawsuit," said plaintiff, Erica Hernandez.

But on Tuesday she shed tears of joy for what many describe as a victory for female grape pickers.

Hernandez and Terri Saucedo were plaintiffs in a sex discrimination lawsuit against Kovacevich 5 Farms, a Central California grape grower.

"K5 Farms has agreed to pay $1.68 million to our clients and other women who were rejected or deterred from applying for farm worker jobs," said attorney Gloria Allred.

Hernandez and Saucedo along with four other women allege that beginning in 1998, the company did not hire women.

"They said a number of things. 'No we don't hire women. Women are lazy and they belong at the house with the kids. Just stay home and take care of your kids and that's it,'" said Hernandez.

According to Allred, the company hired about 300 grape pickers a year between 1998 and 2002 -- but no women.

"To often farm worker women find themselves in these situations, where they're discriminated against. They're not taken seriously, and they're not provided with the same opportunity as any other worker. And yet time and again they demonstrate there competency there ability and they're willingness to do their work," said United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez.

K5 Farms issued a statement Tuesday in response to the settlement:

"Kovacevich 5 Farms has provided employment opportunities for many residents of local farming communities for several generations. Without admitting any liability, Kovacevich 5 Farms intends to continue moving forward in providing employment opportunities."


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