Dunnewood Vineyards, a Ukiah winery owned by Constellation Brands, is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission over accusations that it tolerated discrimination against Mexican-born workers.
The EEOC lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court, alleges that a Dunnewood supervisor regularly harassed winery worker Julio Perez-Lombera and other Mexican-born workers, using racial slurs on a daily basis and telling them to go back to Mexico.
The supervisor had allegedly subjected Perez-Lombera and other Mexican-born employees to derogatory comments about their national origin since 2004, calling them "wetbacks," "dumb beaners" and "black beanies," according to the complaint.
Although the supervisor was also Latino, he was born in the United States while the workers he allegedly harassed were born in Mexico, the EEOC said. The supervisor was not identified in the lawsuit.
"It's hard to understand why a member of one group would harass members of the same group on the basis of their national origin, but, sadly, there's all kinds of discrimination in too many workplaces," said Michael Baldonado, San Francisco district director for the EEOC.
Perez-Lombera was hired as a racker/blender at the winery in 2004, the lawsuit said. After he complained, the harassment escalated, and Perez-Lombera was assigned to a less desirable shift and eventually terminated, according to the suit.
"The egregiousness of the harassment, I think, is particularly striking in this case," said Raymond Cheung, senior trial attorney for the EEOC. "The harassing comments were made at the factory in plain sight. Other people heard it, coworkers heard it, upper management heard it ... and they turned a blind eye to it."
A winery worker in Ukiah referred phone calls to Constellation for comment.
"Constellation Brands is an equal opportunity employer and takes this responsibility very seriously," said Cheryl Gossin, Constellation's vice president for corporate communications, in an email. "We have not yet been formally served with the lawsuit, and as policy we do not comment on pending litigation."
Cheung said at least two other employees besides Perez-Lombera were harassed, and the supervisor seemed to pick on the employees who spoke the least amount of English.
Because the alleged harasser was a manager, he was acting as a proxy for Constellation and the company is liable for his actions, Cheung said. If the harasser was not a manager, then federal attorneys would have to prove the company was aware of the actions — a higher hurdle to clear in discrimination cases.
The EEOC enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.
For the first time ever, the EEOC last year received more complaints about retaliation against employees who reported problems than complaints of racial discrimination.
The lawsuit was filed after the EEOC failed to reach a settlement in negotiations with the company. Last year, it filed eight employment discrimination lawsuits in Northern California and 271 lawsuits nationwide.
Constellation, which owns brands like Clos du Bois and Robert Mondavi, is the world's second-largest wine company behind E&J Gallo. The company employs 4,300 people in 125 countries, according to its website.
Central Fire Authority budget woes
Central Fire Authority budget woes
When Jack Piccinini, a retired Santa Rosa battalion chief, was hired last spring as Central Fire Authority’s interim chief, his initial duties were clear: Hire a battalion chief and three new Windsor firefighters. Fifty applicants already were lined up.
But Piccinini found alarming signs in the budget, including:
— Runaway overtime costs of about $35,000 a month.
— Windsor fire was cutting deeply into dwindling financial reserves to pay for staff. Reserves, more than $2 million two years ago, are expected to drop to about $900,000 by the end of this fiscal year.
— Rincon Valley fire had unfunded pension costs and two aging, inadequate fire houses that needed millions to remodel with no funding in place.
— Unnecessary spending in ongoing legal and consulting work, which had cost CFA about $70,000 in 2015 for legal services not involving litigation and $130,000 over two years for human resources consulting. Little came of the consultant’s recommendations, which could have been handled in-house, Piccinini said. Former chief Doug Williams said the spending on the consulting work was necessary because he needed the input to run the fire departments.
Instead of hiring, Piccinini warned the surprised fire district board members of future layoffs and station closures without budget cuts. He reshuffled schedules to reduce overtime, putting himself on the battalion chief rotation, and chopped monthly overtime costs to about $12,000 without reducing services. But that’s only a temporary solution, he said.
Other immediate cuts included some of the legal work ordered by the fire district and all of the human resources consulting work.
“The board didn’t realize the gravity of the financial situation,” Piccinini said. “The budget was not well managed.”
— Randi Rossmann