Big Win for Farmworkers in Sexual Harassment Case

A female farmworker harvests grapes.  (Andrés Cediel/IRP)

Just as our series "Rape on the Night Shift" launches this week, there's news related to our earlier project "Rape in the Fields," which broke ground in exposing sexual harassment and abuse of farmworkers. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has announced a $330,000 settlement in a sexual harassment case involving 10 Latino farmworkers at Zoria Farms, once one of the largest dried fruit processors in the country.

The EEOC case alleged that since 2007, at least two supervisors for the Madera-based company would make unwelcome sexual comments, hug and kiss Latina farmworkers, and pressure them for dates or sex. Court filings say that both female and male farmworkers reported the harassment, but the company failed to take immediate action. After Zoria Farms sold the company to Z Foods in 2008, many of the workers were denied jobs at the new operation, and the EEOC charge says that was because of retaliation for complaints.

"The agricultural industry in particular needs to recognize the susceptibility of its workforce to sexual harassment and make protecting workers a priority," says Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC in Los Angeles. She's also featured in this week's series as the lead prosecutor in a class-action lawsuit involving janitors who were sexually harassed and raped in the Central Valley.

The five-year consent decree signed this week not only provides monetary relief to the 10 farmworkers, but the company also agreed to change its policies and practices should it decide to re-open -- including a centralized tracking system for complaints of discrimination and retaliation. Similar agreements have been reached in EEOC settlements involving the janitorial industry.

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The $330,000 settlement is significant, but not as large as other settlements that farmworkers have been paid for sexual harassment. As we reported back in 2006, a farmworker who said she was raped at Harris Farms was awarded $1 million in damages and lost wages.

The EEOC filed a case against both Zoria Farms and Z Foods in federal court in Fresno in September 2013. The case against Z Foods is still pending.