EEOC sexual harassment victory brings fairness to the fields

When one thinks of sexual harassment, one might picture a woman in a male-dominated environment, such as the police force or fire department, being given a hard time. As a recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case illustrates, however, workplace discrimination is sometimes at its worst when the workplace is in a field.

Although such cases do not usually make headlines, sexual harassment in Florida’s tomato farming industry has been a serious problem for years. Too often, the response has been non-existent. Many of the abused female workers are immigrants of limited means and are intimidated into silence by their superiors, who often threaten termination if their lewd requests aren’t granted.

This was exactly the case for two women who, just over three years ago, brought a workplace harassment complaint to the EEOC. The women claimed that their field supervisors, a father and son team, repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward them. One of the supervisors even forced one of the women to touch him inappropriately. When the women complained, they were fired. Now, three and a half years later, they have been vindicated.

The tomato grower, by whom the women and their supervisors were employed, has been ordered to pay each woman $150,000 in damages. In addition, the company must establish an anti-harassment protocol that employees can safely and effectively use to report workplace discrimination to the company. Furthermore, the grower must set up a training program through which employees nationwide will be educated on the discrimination laws enforced by the EEOC, and it must report to the EEOC regularly over the next three years concerning its management of harassment complaints.

The results of this lawsuit are great news for the women involved and their families, for the tomato industry, and for the nation as a whole.

Source: Huffington Post, “Fighting Sexual Harassment in the Fields,” Greg Asbed, July 26, 2012.