EEOC Seeks to Protect Vulnerable Farm Workers from Harassment
Author: Beth Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently been pursuing the protection of farm workers from discrimination and harassment in employment.
For example, just recently the EEOC filed suit against Roy Farms alleging that a male supervisor constantly sexually harassed his male subordinates, made sexual and threatening comments as well as touched the employees in a sexual manner and demanded that they watch him urinate. See EEOC v. Roy Farms, Inc., CV-12-03117-TOR.
In another case, the EEOC sued Egg Giant National Food for sexual harassment claiming that the employer failed to stop the supervisor's sexual demands and retaliated against employees who complained of sexual harassment. One of the victims alleged that over a period of years, a supervisor physically grabbed women workers and made repeated demands for sexual favors, threatening them that they would lose their jobs if they failed to comply. See EEOC v. National Food Corp., CV-12-00550-TOR.
In both cases, although the victims voiced complaints, the employer failed to take any corrective measures to end the harassment.
In yet another case, the EEOC sued River Point Farms alleging that a supervisor verbally abused a female employee for years and exacerbated her domestic problems by publicly encouraging her husband to kill her. After her husband attempted to kill her, the supervisor blamed her for causing her husband's arrest and terminated her employment. See EEOC v. RPF Holdings, LLC dba River Point Farms LLC CV-12-01765-SU.
Further, the EEOC recently settled a lawsuit for national origin harassment with Constellation Wines U.S., Inc. in which the employer agreed to pay $75,000 and to implement preventative measures and conduct antiharassment training in both English and Spanish. The lawsuit alleged that Mexican-born workers had suffered continual harassment and were called "wetbacks" and "beaners" and told to go back to Mexico after they complained of harassment. See EEOC v. Constellation Wines U.S., Inc., dba Dunnewood Vineyards, Civil No. 11-04437 JSW.
These cases highlight that the EEOC is pursuing non-traditional harassment claims such as those by males against males in the workplace and claims based on national origin harassment as well as claims of sexual violence and abuse. Further, the EEOC has indicated that farm workers are particularly vulnerable due to the fact that many are immigrants who may lack legal authorization to work in the US. Further, these seasonal, temporary and migrant workers often labor long hours in isolated working conditions and lack familiarity with legal protections and access to the legal system. Further, there is a vast pay disparity and imbalance of power between the employers , supervisors and low wage laborers.
Lastly, these cases are a reminder to all employers to be diligent in maintaining and enforcing a zero tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination as well as conducting training for all managers, supervisors and employees. Further, all employers should promptly investigate any claims of discrimination or harassment and take remedial measures if necessary.