“Harrowing,” “appalling” and “extreme abuse” were words used by EEOC lawyers regarding a series of recently filed cases targeting sexual harassment of farmworkers. It appears that the EEOC is periodically targeting different types of discrimination and different industries, and selecting particularly egregious cases to make a point to employers. Recently, for example, we noted that the EEOC was targeting the health care industry, ADA violators, as well as pregnancy discrimination.
Now the EEOC has announced that it has filed numerous lawsuits within the last few days targeting sexual harassment, particularly of farmworkers, who are subject to an “appalling abuse of power.”
In perhaps the most “harrowing case” (quoting an EEOC attorney), the EEOC sued River Point Farms of Oregon, alleging that a supervisor reinforced the domestic abuse of a female employee by verbally abusing her for years and publicly encouraging the woman's husband to kill her. After her husband tried to kill her when she was pregnant by kicking her in the stomach “so savagely” that she had to go to the hospital, the supervisor blamed her for causing her husband's arrest and then fired her.
The woman was quoted as saying that "My supervisor told me I was less than a man, that my husband should be allowed to beat me, and that I should put up with it because I am a woman."
The EEOC also sued Washington’s Roy Farms, alleging that a male supervisor sexually harassed male laborers for two years by assaulting them with sexual and threatening comments, touching them in a sexual manner and insisting that they watch him urinate. "I have worked in the farm industry for many years, and I had never before faced such extreme abuse," said one EEOC attorney.
Finally, the EEOC sued National Food Corporation, a major egg supplier in Washington, alleging that it allowed a supervisor to physically grab a female worker, who worked alone in an isolated barn where the harasser was the only management person on site, and make sexual demands upon her several times a week for years. "I suffered humiliating and disgusting demands from my boss," said the barn worker.
To underscore its efforts involving sexual harassment of “vulnerable workers,” another EEOC attorney recounted several recent settlements. Seattle’s Allstar Fitness paid a $150,000 settlement on behalf of a janitor repeatedly raped and then fired. Oregon-based Wilcox Farms settled a sexual harassment and physical sexual assault case for $260,000. And ABM Industries, Inc. paid $5.8 million to 21 janitorial workers who were sexually harassed by 14 male coworkers and supervisors, including one who was raped by a supervisor.
These may be "appalling" cases chosen by the EEOC to make a point, but it goes without saying that all employers in the United States must have a written "zero tolerance" policy regarding sexual harassment distributed to all employees and managers and enforced by the employer, as well as appropriate periodic sexual harassment training of both employees and managers.