Agricultural Industry’s Dark Secret: Rape, Harassment, & Fear Common for Workers

09/27/2013 // Keller Grover LLP (Press Release) // Keller Grover, LLP // (press release)

The agricultural business has a dark secret, which many of their workers keep hidden for fear of retaliation, deportation and losing their job. Now a brave worker has come forward to expose what many of them have kept hidden. A recent landmark case that yielded a $800,000 judgment has exposed the truth behind the allegations of rape and sexual harassment at many of our country’s agribusinesses, reports San Francisco employment lawyer Eric Grover.

Olivia Tamayo bravely stepped forward and filed what would become a landmark case that held Harris Farms, one of the country’s largest agriculture businesses, accountable after it was alleged that she was raped by a supervisor, revealed.

The 2004 lawsuit, which is believed to be the first federal sexual harassment case against an agricultural business to make it to trial, awarded Tamayo $800,000. Harris Farms was found guilty of failing to stop sexual abuse and retaliation against Tamayo as a result of her reporting the sexual assault.

Tamayo was allegedly driven to another area of the farm by her supervisor when he pulled over, whipped out a gun and forced her to have sex with him. This happened several times before Tamayo was brave enough to come forward and report the crime, reports Grover, a San Francisco employment lawyer.

Although justice may have been served, many of our nation’s farmworkers are still facing the threat of sexual harassment.

According to a Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and the Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism report, “Women working in the country’s fields and food processing plants continue to face persistent peril of sexual violence and harassment.”

California is one of the country’s largest and most productive agricultural landscapes, where many low-wage migrant workers hide the dark secret of the horrors they endure because of their fear of deportation, retaliation, shame and concerns that they’ll be fired. California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board has since stepped up enforcement of labor laws for its farmworkers.

A recent case, which was filed in May by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, a government entity that enforces state labor laws for farmworkers, is also fighting to end sexual harassment on farms. The case alleges that a female worker, who was harvesting sweet potatoes in Stanislaus County, was fired as a result of reporting sexual assault at the hands of her supervisor.

The CIR and IRP analyzed 41 lawsuits that were filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission in the last 15 years and found that in almost all of the lawsuits the aggressor held a power position and had assaulted multiple victims.

In all of the cases, the CIR and IRP could not find one case where there was a criminal prosecution as a result of filing the complaint with the commission. The vast majority of the cases were settled out of court or dismissed.

The investigation also revealed that more than “4 out of 5 workers who reported the problem to their employers say they were demoted, fired or subjected to further abuse.”

“It is time that the dark secret of the agricultural industry is exposed and these employers are held accountable for the behavior of their supervisory staff,” says San Francisco employment lawyer Eric Grover. “These workers should not have to live in fear of retaliation, the threat of deportation or job loss. Sexual abuse on our farms will not change unless these workers are able to safely step forward and aggressively fight for their rights. That can only be possible when the workers believe that they can succeed and get the support they need from the appropriate agencies. Being afraid is no longer an option, and by stepping forward and contacting an employment lawyer to help you work through the process, you can help make the agricultural industry a better place for all workers.”

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