GLENDALE – Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced today that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AGO) Civil Rights Division (CRD) entered into a consent decree with Sunburst Farms Irrigation District to resolve a sexual harassment and hostile work environment lawsuit filed by the CRD, pursuant to the Arizona Civil Rights Act (ACRA). Because this matter involved a business with less than fifteen employees, only the AGO and the ACRA could provide relief via government oversight because federal jurisdiction was not available. The ACRA prohibits sexual harassment in workplaces with at least one employee.
“People have a right to live free from workplace harassment and any employee experiencing harassment at work is encouraged to speak up and file a Civil Rights complaint with the Attorney General's Office,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “It doesn't matter how small or large a company is. A workplace polluted by sexual harassment creates a hostile work environment. It's unacceptable and unlawful under the Arizona Civil Rights Act."
A female employee of Sunburst Farms Irrigation filed a charge with the AGO's CRD. She alleged that a Sunburst supervisor subjected her to unwelcome and inappropriate sex-based comments and conduct for several years.
On February 1, 2019, the AGO's CRD filed a lawsuit alleging Sunburst Farms Irrigation District violated the ACRA when it subjected a female employee to different terms, conditions, and privileges of employment because of her sex. The CRD alleged that Sunburst failed to address, let alone remedy, a long established pattern of pervasive sexual harassment by a male supervisor.
Under the terms of the consent decree, in addition to a separate financial settlement with the employee, Sunburst Farms Irrigation District agrees to:
- Hire an independent qualified human resources management organization to oversee Sunburst Farms Irrigation District’s employment related decisions, including allegations of sexual harassment, hostile work environment, sex discrimination, and retaliation. The independent qualified human resources management individual or organization will have authority to receive, evaluate, investigate, and issue determinations about employment-related complaints in compliance with federal and state law including the ACRA.
- Remove supervisory authority from the individual alleged to have engaged in unlawful sexual harassment until he completes mandatory training pursuant to the consent decree. Further, the individual will no longer supervise the position held by the female employee. Additionally, he is enjoined from training any of Sunburst Farms Irrigation District’s employees on its policies.
- Establish employment and anti-harassment policies to include, in addition to other provisions, a strong and clear commitment to a workplace free of unlawful harassment and unlawful sex discrimination and procedures for reporting unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Sunburst Farms Irrigation District shall distribute the policies and procedures to all current officers, employees, Board of Directors, managers, supervisors, and agents and those hired, appointed, or elected in the future.
- Provide training to its officers, employees, supervisors, managers, and Board of Directors and those hired, appointed, or elected during the term of the consent decree on Sunburst Farms Irrigation District’s anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, and anti-retaliation policies and procedures and harassment, hostile work environment, sex discrimination and retaliation under the ACRA and federal employment laws.
- Keep posted in a conspicuous location an Equal Employment Opportunity poster at all locations it maintains and operates in Arizona.
This case was overseen by AGO Civil Litigation Division Chief Counsel Joseph Sciarrotta and CRD Chief Counsel Rebekah Browder, and handled by CRD Unit Chief Counsel Leslie Ross and Assistant Attorneys General Daniel Nies and Angela Schultz.
Copy of the consent decree.
Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office
The mission of the CRD is to enforce civil rights laws, increase public awareness of civil rights, provide dispute resolution services, and offer community services throughout the State.
Recently, the CRD, in partnership with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), published a free civil rights pamphlet to provide Arizonans with answers to frequently asked questions regarding their rights and how to file a civil rights complaint related to discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and voting. A copy of the pamphlet can be viewed here (English). Spanish version available here.
Since 2015, the CRD has investigated more than 1,700 complaints alleging violations of ACRA each year. The CRD resolves disputes through investigations and various forms of conflict resolution, including mediation, conciliation, or litigation when necessary.
If you believe you’ve been discriminated against in employment, housing, public accommodations, or voting, please contact our office at (602) 542-5263 or submit an intake questionnaire at www.azag.gov/complaints/civil-rights.