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Lower Valley grower wins partial court victory

A federal court has dismissed 14 sexual harassment claims at a Sunnyside ranch.

That's according to a decision issued last week by District Court Judge Lonny R. Suko, who dismissed 14 of 27 harassment claims filed in 2010 against Cowiche-based Evans Fruit.

One of the world's biggest apple producers, Evans Fruit was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on charges of sexual harassment stemming from allegations made by female employees working at a Sunnyside ranch.

Suko's ruling last week was the second court setback in six months for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In May, Suko ordered the EEOC to mediate the case with Evans Fruit instead of pursuing a nearly $2 million suit in court, noting the EEOC "...did not engage in a good faith conciliation effort."

Those talks were unsuccessful, leading to Suko's decision on Nov. 27 to dismiss 13 of the plaintiffs.

In his 26-page decision, Suko noted three of the plaintiffs could not be located and found that in 10 other complaints "...this evidence is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact."

Even so, the ruling left the door open for the EEOC to proceed on 13 of the claims.

"There is sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact," Suko wrote in his decision. "Any damages proximately caused by the alleged conduct and/or statements is a question for the jury, if liability is found."

The remaining 13 claims will be heard in a jury trial in March 2013.

"Evans Fruit is very much looking forward to the opportunity to test the plaintiffs' testimony before an impartial jury," Brendan Monahan, attorney for Evans Fruit, told the Daily Sun News Thursday morning.

In regards to Suko's ruling last week dismissing 13 of 26 cases, Monahan added, "What we learned is that much of the EEOC's case was built on the faulty premise of rumor, gossip and fiction."

Monahan also told the Daily Sun News, "This ruling reaffirms the basic notion that cases must be supported by admissible evidence, and that the EEOC's multiple press releases should not be confused with actual evidence of wrongdoing."

According to its website, the EEOC has yet to issue a press release on last week's ruling.

However, last year the federal agency staged a press conference in Granger touting an injunction against Evans Fruit in the sexual harassment case.

William Tamayo, a regional attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, spoke at that press conference. He did not reply to the Daily Sun News' request for comment on last week's decision.

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