Coffee company settles lawsuit

Published 9:51 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Suffolk coffee company has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency announced earlier this month.

Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA Inc., which operates a roasting facility in Suffolk, has agreed to pay $65,000 and provide other relief to settle the sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit, according to a press release from the EEOC.

The EEOC had charged that Massimo Zanetti discriminated against a temporary worker when it subjected her to a sexually hostile work environment and then fired her for opposing the abuse.

Email newsletter signup

The lawsuit alleged that a male co-worker made repeated comments and gestures of a sexual nature toward LaToya Young. He told her he imagined the two having sex and would lick his lips and blow kisses while looking at Young, among other comments and gestures.

Young began her employment at the Suffolk roasting facility on Progress Road about Jan. 21, 2015, according to the suit. About Feb. 1 of that year, she was assigned to work monitoring four roasters. The harassment allegedly started the same day and lasted until Young complained to her immediate supervisor on Feb. 10.

The alleged harassment stopped for a few days but resumed on Feb. 13. That day, Young complained again to her supervisor, according to the lawsuit. She told her supervisor that she intended to report the harassment to the Human Resources department, the lawsuit states.

“In response, the supervisor told Young that doing so would jeopardize her employment,” the lawsuit states. “Young did not therefore report the harassment to Human Resources.”

The co-worker allegedly continued to make sexual comments and gestures to Young after the Feb. 13 complaint. Around March 4, Young made her final complaint about the harassment to her supervisor, yet it allegedly continued.

About March 24, Massimo Zanetti fired Young.

In addition to providing monetary relief to Young, the coffee company entered into a two-year consent decree requiring the company to conduct annual training for its Suffolk employees, supervisors and managers on the requirements of Title VII and its prohibition against sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace. The company also must post an employee notice in the Suffolk facility and provide periodic reports to the EEOC.

“Employers must take appropriate action to stop harassment of all employees, including temporary workers,” said Kara G. Haden, acting regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District. “We hope that this case sends a clear message that the EEOC will hold accountable employers who fail to protect all employees from workplace harassment.”