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Three Lawsuits Points To A Harassment-Prone Industry: Farming

In an indication of potentially wide-spread discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed three new lawsuits against employers last week. All of the suits share two things in common: they allege horrific acts of sexual harassment and they target farming industry employers.

Sexual harassment includes more than just requests for sexual favors. As these new lawsuits point out, employers must also act to prevent unwelcome sexually related behavior, jokes, or offensive comments. The EEOC thinks that farm workers are especially vulnerable to this type of harassment because they work in relatively isolated environments with little supervision of other employees.

In the first lawsuit, the EEOC charges an onion grower with failing to prevent a supervisor from making extremely offensive sexual comments and jokes about a female employee. The supervisor allegedly humiliated the woman in public by encouraging her husband to abuse her. He also apparently asked the woman for sexual favors, among other shocking accusations.

Another lawsuit involves a farm supervisor who allegedly harassed his male employees by making sexual comments and inappropriately touching them. Sexual harassment can still occur in this kind of situation even if the supervisor is not attracted to the same-sex victims.

The third lawsuit comes on behalf of a woman who worked every day in an isolated barn with no supervision other than her direct manager. That manager apparently required her to have sex with him in order to keep her job.

These lawsuits indicate some less well-known aspects of sexual harassment law and point to broader problems in the farming industry. Potential plaintiffs may not know that their managers' conduct is flagrantly unlawful. Further, the farming environment may facilitate illegal harassment because employers do not closely supervise managers' behavior.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Newsroom, "EEOC Sues to Redress Sexual Harassment of Vulnerable Farmworkers," Oct. 5, 2012 

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