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Female harvesters win sex harassment suit

A group of female tomato pickers who reported sexual harassment will receive a $150,000 settlement from their former employer, according to government reports. The women were part of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation into unfair work practices at DiMare Ruskin, one of the nation's foremost producers of tomatoes.

The two women had filed formal sexual harassment claims against their employer after they endured sexual advances by their supervisors. One of the women's crew leaders would frequently proposition her for sex, using vulgar language to attempt to persuade her to sleep with him. The other woman said she was groped and verbally harassed by her male supervisor on multiple occasions.

Not only will the company be required to pay the women, according to the terms of the settlement, but the firm will also be required to implement a revised sexual-harassment policy, creating a better system for employees to submit harassment claims. The firm must also provide better training to its workers about EEOC mandates and requirements, according to court documents.

Attorneys for the women say that this case should serve as an example to other growers throughout the nation's major agricultural regions. From California to Florida, agricultural professionals should be sure that they are implementing appropriate protective measures for all of their employees. That means developing and maintaining EEOC-mandated programs designed to decrease the incidence of sexual harassment.

Many women are afraid to report sexual harassment because they think they might lose their jobs and find themselves without financial resources. Furthermore, Spanish-speaking Hispanic farmworkers are even more vulnerable to sexual harassment from supervisors, largely because they are not familiar with United States employment law.

The workers in this case had come to an independent coalition to report the incidents. Advocates say that independent support groups provide an important link between workers and government agencies, as demonstrated in this landmark case. They say they hope the results of this case inspire more people to come forward to report workplace injustices.

Source: The Miami Herald, "Women farm workers win sex harassment case," Christina Veiga, July 26, 2012

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