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It Probably Wasn’t the Weather …

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (CN) - Four women say that when they complained of a litany of vulgar and offensive sexual harassment from their boss, the company CEO told them, "Maybe it's just the weather." They sued Hammons Products Company, a nut company, for discrimination and retaliation.

The company itself is the only defendant in the federal complaint.

Hammons describes itself on its website as "the world's premier processor and supplier of American Black Walnuts!"

The plaintiffs, who were born between 1946 and 1960, worked in the Hammons Products inspection room making sure buckets of shelled black walnuts were clear of shells and debris. They say the harassment began when Jeff Dunaway was named their supervisor in 2005 or 2006.

The women say Dunaway harassed them by calling them "crazy old bitches," "fat cows," and "lazy old bags"; saying he needed to get rid of the "old bitches" and replace them with young women who would be more pleasant to look at; telling sexually offensive jokes; displaying sexually offensive pictures on his cell phone; telling them they should wear Depends adult diapers, and that they would have to come to work in wheelchairs because they were so old; "poking" them in their breasts; and allowing his daughters, who began working for Hammons in 2008, to mock and demean them.

When the women took their complaints to Hammons CEO Brian Hammons in February 2010, "Mr. Hammons' first response was to say 'Maybe it's just the weather,'" according to the complaint.

It continues: "Defendant thereafter claimed it investigated plaintiffs' complaints and concluded that Jeff Dunaway's conduct was 'inappropriate but not illegal.'"

The women say they were laid off in July 2010, as they were every summer, but were not called back to work in September, though they had more experience than employees who were called back.

The women say they were not called back as retaliation for complaining about Dunaway.

They seek punitive damages for sex and age discrimination and retaliation.

They are represented by Kathryn Denner of St. Louis.

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