Berry farm has to pay $350K

By on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021 in Columbia Basin News More Top Stories

OLYMPIA – Great Columbia Berry Farms LLC of Walla Walla County will pay $350,000 in damages in a civil rights enforcement action filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office. A lawsuit against the company charges that one of its managers, Jose Luis Contreras Ramirez, raped at least one woman employee, sexually harassed several other over the course of years, and retaliated against those workers who spoke out against his conduct.

At least four women were directly affected by the manager’s conduct. The entire award will go to those women who were harmed. The percentage each receives depends upon the nature and extent of the harm.

The legally-binding consent decree was filed in Walla Walla County Superior Court requires the company to adopt anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies and trainings  that are approved by the attorney general’s office. Once the decree is approved by the court, it will become an enforceable court order.

The case was referred to the attorney general by the Northwest Justice Project. One of the women who was hurt was a client of the project.

“Companies that know or should know that powerful managers are harassing and assaulting their employees but do nothing to stop it bear responsibility,” Ferguson stated in a prepared release. “Agricultural workers deserve to be heard and they deserve a safe work environment free from abuse.”

Contreras Ramirez was arrested in 2019 for sexual assault charges in Walla Walla County in connection with the rape of one of the women he supervised. He has not worked for Great Columbia Berry Farms since his arrest. The consent decree bans him from entering the farm, from being rehired, or from having contact with any of the farm’s employees.