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Ukiah winery settles lawsuit over discrimination claims

Dunnewood Vineyards, the Ukiah winery owned by Constellation Brands, has settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over accusations that it tolerated discrimination against Mexican-born workers.

Constellation agreed to pay $75,000 and conduct anti-harassment training for all Dunnewood employees.

The company admitted no liability, Constellation spokeswoman Angie Blackwell said. It settled the case to avoid further costly litigation, she said.

"We're denying all allegations of all wrongdoing," Blackwell said. "We are a responsible company, and we take all actions to make sure that our employees are working within the policies and procedures that we require."

The suit claimed that a Mexican-American supervisor at Dunnewood had regularly harassed winery worker Julio Perez-Lombera and other Mexican-born workers since 2004, calling them "wetbacks" and "beaners" and telling them to go back to Mexico when they complained of harassment.

"Until this case, we didn't realize we had rights, or that there are laws to stop that kind of treatment," Perez-Lombera said in a statement. "I hope other people facing harassment on the job will realize they have rights, too, and will talk to the EEOC like I did."

Constellation owns more than 100 wine, beer and spirit brands, including Clos du Bois, Robert Mondavi and Simi. It was the third-largest wine company by case sales in 2011, after E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto and The Wine Group, based in Livermore.

The EEOC had been investigating the allegations since 2008, Blackwell said. After failing to reach a pre-litigation settlement, the federal agency filed the lawsuit in September 2011.

"We hope this case clearly signals that the civil rights laws of this country protect everyone from illegal discrimination, regardless of their ancestry or place of birth," William R. Tamayo, regional attorney with the EEOC, said in a statement.


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