US says Indians harassed at Christmas tree farm

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PORTLAND, Ore. – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a Christmas tree farm, alleging that the racial and sexual harassment of two Mixtec Indians from Mexico occurred and was unchecked by the farm management for nearly three years.

The supervisor of the Mixtec men allegedly made derogatory comments about their Indian ancestry, calling each of them a “damn Indian dog” and “scabby dog” and restricted them from speaking their native Mixtec language because it “sounded ugly,” according to a complaint filed on Sept. 24 in federal court.

The name of the supervisor was not released but he was described as “Mexican” in a news release, striking a chord with prosecutors.

“This case is unusual in highlighting the vulnerabilities of a minority-within-a-minority, the indigenous Mixtec population,” said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo in the release.

The allegations also parallel the reported treatment of some Indians in Mexico, where they are ranked at the bottom of the social hierarchy and are vulnerable to racism.

The supervisor allegedly pushed one of the Indians down to the ground and threatened another with a machete, according to the complaint. He allegedly forced the men to contribute to his daily beer fund and sexually harassed the Indians, the complaint said.

The treatment occurred from fall of 2005 to spring of 2009 at the farms of Holiday Specialtrees in Woodburn, Ore. about 35 miles south of Portland.

The 30-year-old family-owned farm is a grower of Christmas trees with 2,200 acres and more than three million trees in production, according to its website, www.holidayspecialtrees.com.

A man who identified himself as “Jim” at the farm said he would not comment on the allegations.

The EEOC is requesting from the court to mandate the farm to implement anti-discrimination policies and a sum to be determined by a trial.

“The EEOC will aggressively pursue employers who fail to take appropriate action against illegal harassment, especially in situations like this where the balance of power is tipped so heavily against workers susceptible to attack,” Tamayo said in the release.

Mixtecs are a large ethnic group from regions in southern Mexico and contemporaneous with the Aztecs. Many Mixtecs have migrated north for work in the past two decades, showing up as farm workers in northern Mexican border cities and U.S. states like California and Oregon.