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Monterey Mushrooms targeted by EEOC in discrimination suit By GWEN MICKELSON Sentinel staff writer PHILADELPHIA ? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a national-origin discrimination and retaliation lawsuit Wednesday against Amycel, a subsidiary of Watsonville-based Monterey Mushrooms.
Monterey Mushrooms, which employs more than 3,000 people, is the largest mushroom grower and distributor in North America. Amycel, a mushroom-spawn producer, is a Monterey Mushrooms supplier.
The EEOC?s suit alleges Amycel?s sales director at the company?s Avondale, Penn., site violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when he harassed Ronald Berger of Bala Cynwyd, Penn., by referring to him as "Osama bin Laden" and as a "terrorist." In addition, the suit says Amycel further violated Title VII when it fired Berger for complaining about his treatment.
Annie Long, Monterey Mushrooms director of human resources, said, "Monterey Mushrooms promotes and supports diversity, and we feel that this lawsuit doesn?t have any basis, and we will challenge it," said
According to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Berger was hired by Monterey Mushrooms in 1985. He was promoted several times and was relocated in 2002 to Amycel?s Avondale office as a plant manager.
Allegedly, while in line at an airport in Canada later that year, Berger?s immediate supervisor, Carl Fusco, took Berger?s driver?s license and referred to him as a "terrorist."
Berger is of Mediterranean descent and has a full beard.
In later incidents, the EEOC says, Fusco and a human resources assistant referred to Berger as a "terrorist" or as "Osama bin Laden" in front of other employees.
The agency says Amycel failed to address this treatment and Monterey Mushrooms? corporate human resource manager fired Berger in 2003, shortly after he complained to the company, despite years of satisfactory performance.
Title VII makes it illegal to deny a person any employment opportunity because of race or color, sex, religion or national origin.
It also shields workers from illegal harassment and protects people who complain about actions they believe to be discriminatory from retaliation stemming from the complaints.
The suit seeks to eliminate the discriminatory practices cited in the case and have Amycel compensate Berger for the monetary losses and emotional pain and humiliation.