Farmworker Women Subjected to Rape, Coerced Sex, Groping and Verbal Abuse, Federal Agency Charges in Two Separate Lawsuits
MIAMI - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed two separate sexual harassment lawsuits yesterday afternoon -- one against Windmill Farms Nursery, Inc., a plant material wholesaler and nursery located in Zolfo Springs, Fla., and another against Moreno Farms, Inc., a farming business with packing and distribution facilities in Felda, Fla. -- the agency announced today.
The two lawsuits charge the companies with sexual harassment of female agricultural workers at the hands of their supervisors. The lawsuits again bring to the forefront, and underscore the EEOC's longstanding nationwide commitment to addressing, the plight of this vulnerable segment of workers, who are often reluctant or unable to exercise their rights under the equal employment laws.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit against Windmill Farms Nurseries, Inc., a male supervisor sexually harassed female employees who worked as planters at the nursery. The EEOC claims that the harasser sexually propositioned a female worker and offered favors if she agreed to be his girlfriend. The lawsuit also alleges that this supervisor regularly harassed another female employee, including by groping her. The supervisor allegedly fired one of the victims less than a month after she rejected his sexual advances.
In a completely separate action, the EEOC also filed suit against Moreno Farms, Inc. (an entity not related to Windmill Farms Nurseries, Inc.). The EEOC charges that a male supervisor in Moreno Farms' packaging facility engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment, including regularly groping one female employee, demanding and having sex with her on three occasions, and threatening the employee with termination if she did not have sex with him. This supervisor ultimately terminated the employee because she refused to have sex with his brother, who supervised pickers working the fields adjacent to the packaging facility. The EEOC further alleges that the supervisor's brother raped a female worker, and that the supervisor's male assistant raped a different female worker.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who oppose it. The EEOC filed suit against Moreno Farms, Inc. (Case No. 1:14-cv-23181-DPG) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC filed suit against Windmill Farms Nursery, Inc. (Case No. 8:14-cv-2116-T36- MAP) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division after similarly first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The suits both seek monetary and injunctive relief.
"No employee should be required to endure sexually degrading, abusive conduct as a condition of employment," said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District Office. "Female agricultural workers are no different. This lawsuit seeks to protect the civil rights of an important but vulnerable segment of our labor force - the agricultural worker."
Malcolm Medley, district director for the Miami District Office, added, "The EEOC has a significant law enforcement duty to protect all members of the workforce, including agricultural workers, who often endure egregious violations of their rights."
Combating discrimination against agricultural workers falls within one of the EEOC's priorities under its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP): protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers. Preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach is another specific SEP priority. To learn more about the EEOC's strategic plan and enforcement priorities, visit http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/sep.cfm.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. The Miami District Office's jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.