Millions awarded to farm workers in sexual harassment lawsuit
We often write about workplace sexual harassment. For many of us, the workplace is an office building of some sort. But sexual harassment can occur in any work space, including those which are outdoors. Indeed, California’s agriculture industry is associated with high rates of sexual harassment and even sexual assault.
Sadly, the problem is not unique to California. Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prevailed in a lawsuit against a Florida-based produce growing and packing operation. The jury awarded $17.4 million to five women; all former employees who had suffered severe sexual harassment and retaliation.
The sheer size of the monetary award should provide some indication of just how reprehensible the alleged conduct was. The perpetrators included two of the farm’s owner’s sons and a third male supervisor.
The company also made the somewhat unusual move of taking the case to court rather than settling prior to trial. After hearing the evidence, the jury returned a unanimous verdict.
Commenting on the litigation, an EEOC regional attorney said: “The jury’s verdict today should serve as a clear message to the agricultural industry that the law will not tolerate subjecting female farm workers to sexual harassment and that there are severe consequences when a sex-based hostile work environment is permitted to exist.”
While this case is certainly a win for workers’ rights advocates, there are still far too many agricultural workers suffering in silence. If you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment (regardless of where that workplace happens to be) don’t be afraid to stand up for your rights. Please share your story with an experienced employment law attorney.