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Jury rejects harassment claims brought against Lower Valley grower

YAKIMA - A case nearly three years in the making reached a conclusion yesterday, Wednesday, when a federal district court jury in Yakima denied 14 sexual harassment claims against Evans Fruit.

The suit was brought forward in federal court by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The claims, which at one point numbered 26, were connected with allegations of sexual harassment at a Sunnyside ranch operated by Cowiche-based Evans Fruit.

Brendan Monahan is the attorney for Evans Fruit, and he says his client prevailed because of inconsistent testimony.

"Evans Fruit defended the claims by highlighting inconsistencies in the stories told by the former employees," Monahan told the Daily Sun News this morning. "Evans Fruit also demonstrated that none of the claimants had complained of sexual harassment while they were employed."

Yesterday's verdict is just the latest of several setbacks in the case for the EEOC, which as of press time had not released an official statement on the jury's decision.

In June 2012, a federal judge ordered the EEOC to attempt negotiations with Evans Fruit and denied the agency's attempt at a partial summary judgement in the $2 million suit.

Of the 26 women claiming to be the victims of sexual harassment at the Sunnyside ranch, 11 of the claims were dismissed last December prior to the trial because they lacked admissible evidence. Another claim was dismissed when the former employee was unable to attend trial.

The jury in yesterday's verdict, Monahan noted, ultimately ruled that none of the 14 remaining women had proven by a preponderance of evidence that they had been subjected to a hostile work environment at Evans Fruit.

The Yakima Valley grower still faces claims of retaliation by those who filed the harassment claims. During a 2011 press conference in Granger, William Tamayo, a regional attorney for the EEOC, contended that Evans Fruit employees had created an "environment of intimidation" against those who filed claims against the grower.

Monahan, though, says results in federal court point to his client's innocence.

"The EEOC became unreasonably invested in a narrative that was primarily based on embellished claims and unsubstantiated rumors," he asserts. "The jury's verdict represents a hard dose of reality and a victory for common sense."

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