(Bloomberg) -- Washington state’s biggest mushroom producer illegally fired most of its female employees because their family obligations interfered with their jobs, replacing them with mostly male, foreign agricultural workers, the state’s attorney general said.
In announcing a lawsuit against family-owned Ostrom Mushroom Farms, Attorney General Bob Ferguson was joined by female workers who described instances of physical abuse in order to force them out. Ostrom violated Washington laws and the Consumer Protection Act, Ferguson said.
Maria Toscano, speaking in Spanish and through an interpreter, said the harassment reached “such a point that female coworkers have been hit.” Ostrom “doesn’t want us here because of the simple fact that we are women,” she said.
The Sunnyside-based company “systematically fired” 140, or 79%, of its mushroom pickers between 2021 and 2022, most of them women, Ferguson said. They were replaced by mostly male, foreign, seasonal agricultural laborers working under the federal H-2A program, the attorney general said.
As the company was firing its majority female workers, it posted a job advertisement on Facebook seeking “only males” to work at the farm, Ferguson said in a statement.
Ostrom didn’t immediately respond to a call and email seeking a response to the lawsuit.
Another worker, Samira Rosas, also speaking through an interpreter, said a manager struck her with a metal cart. They stood up, she said, “because we really want to continue working there as single mothers.” Ostrom forced female workers out because they had to leave periodically to take children to appointments and pick them up from school, she said.
“There is no case without these individuals,” Ferguson said, referring to the workers who joined him. “It’s our job now to take their story to a judge.” he added.
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