I have written a lot about the six strategic enforcement priorities set out in the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), which includes protecting “vulnerable” workers, such as immigrant and migrant workers. In an October post, I said “think Henry’s Turkey workers — who were ripe for exploitation.”
Now, the EEOC has announced that “[o”]ne of the largest apple producers in the United States will pay $272,000 to 20 claimants as part of a settlement resolving sexual harassment and retaliation claims.”
I wrote before that “[w]orkers are “vulnerable” to discrimination and harassment for many reasons and in many situation, mostly evidenced by their powerlessness and the low status of their jobs. For example they may fear running afoul of immigration laws; they may be unable to speak English; they may be physically isolated in the job, be it in a field or a warehouse; or perhaps they are mentally challenged.”
This exploitation is not unique to rural areas in the South or West – on 12/5/15 I posted that the EEOC had just announced another such settlement “right here in New York’s summer playground for the global super-wealthy. The settlement – for $582,000 – resolved a sexual harassment lawsuit by eight women against a commercial laundry service in the swanky Hamptons.”
This latest settlement is of a case filed by the EEOC alleging that numerous female farm workers faced sexual harassment over a period of years.
One of the claimants said, “Before this, I thought I didn’t have any real alternatives. I thought that the harassment and fear were just part of the job, what I had to put up with to support my children. Now I know that there are laws that protect me and other women. I hope this will give other workers hope and help them to speak out.”
Takeaway, taken in part from a prior takeaway (which bears repeating — again):
The EEOC has a “longstanding nationwide commitment to addressing the plight of these vulnerable workers.” Employers should understand that, from the top down, an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment tone and policy must be set, and all management personnel as well as line workers must be trained and educated in the basics of discrimination and harassment law and compliance and its application in the workplace.
Employers should not tolerate discrimination or harassment in any form, and must make it clear by words and deeds that employees have the right to complain about such acts and that their complaints will be heard, investigated and, if good cause is found, remediated promptly.
The agricultural industry is not unique or alone in its being targeted as an EEOC priority: it is simply an industry where workers may be at their most vulnerable because of the nature of that workplace. Accordingly, extra attention to compliance must be paid by these employers.