Portland, ME- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a federal lawsuit alleging several female workers were subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation.
The lawsuit alleges that a supervisors for County Fair Farm subjected female employees to unwanted touching, made lewd comments about their bodies and solicited the women for sex, a press release from the EEOC said.
One victim, Clemente Arpaiz, began working as seasonal employee on the farm in 2007, but she quit in 2012 after enduring years of sexual harassment which she repeatedly brought to the attention of the farm’s management.
According to the complaint, Arpaiz’s supervisor would grope her and ask her to perform sexual acts on him. In addition to the in-person harassment, the accused supervisor sent her sexually explicit text messages describing the different sexual acts he wanted to perform on her.
After she complained about the repeated abuses, the harassment only got worse and the workers referred to her as a “cry baby,” warning her to quit “starting trouble,” The Portland Press Herald reported. In one incident make workers left Arpaiz at an area shopping center with no way to return to the farm which was thirty minutes away.
The EEOC filed the lawsuit on the behalf of Arpaiz and other female farms workers who were also sexually harassed. They are seeking compensation for the women’s emotional distress and lost wages, according to the Press Herald.
“Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and harassment,” Robert D. Rose, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office said in the press release. “They are entitled to the full protection of our laws, and the EEOC will vigorously enforce those laws when farmworkers are targets of abuse.”
The EEOC attempted to settle the allegations through the agency’s conciliatory process but that attempt was unsuccessful hence the civil lawsuit.
County Fair Farms in just the latest to face a sexual harassment suit initiated by the EEOC. In August, a potato warehouse in Colorado was hit with a lawsuit after employees complained of the hostile work environment that entail unwanted touching, crude gestures and retaliation.
While the agriculture industry represents a small fraction of the 7,256 sexual harassment complaints the EEOC receives each year, a past study showed that over 50 percent of female farm workers are routinely harassed and few of them come forward.
Female farm workers are afraid to complain about workplace harassment because they are immigrants, many of whom are undocumented. Their silence is bought by threats of deportation or having their work permits revoked. Many don’t understand that their immigration status is not a barrier to getting help when faced sexual misconduct.
The majority of American workers are well-aware of the laws protecting them from workplace harassment and discrimination. They understand they have the right to complain and hire a sexual harassment attorney if they are planning civil action, but many immigrant women are unware of these rights so the harassment persists. No worker, male or female, immigrant or not has to tolerate a hostile work environment.