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Farmworkers receive settlement for long-term sexual harassment

Farmworkers in California have long suffered from under-reported sexual harassment in the fields. A recent settlement involving 10 agricultural workers in the Central Valley could signal a shift in this culture of abuse. The settlement, offered by dried fruit processor Zoria Farms, will provide the sexual harassment victims with more than $300,000, ending a long-term inquiry into the company's employee conduct.

This harassment case dates back to 2007, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that supervisors at the fruit company began making unwanted advances toward female workers. Those women were allegedly subject to unwelcome touching, kissing, and inappropriate comments, with supervisors soliciting the victims for dates or sex.

When the company was restructured just one year later, many of the victims who had complained about the offensive sexual comments were again victimized by unlawful retaliation. Several women lost their jobs during the transfer of ownership to Z Foods; the EEOC alleged that unlawful retaliation was related to their sexual harassment complaints. Federal officials say that the lawsuit against Z Foods is still pending, even though the Zoria Farms case has now concluded.

The company has agreed to make changes to protect other workers from sexual harassment. Those modifications include maintaining a consolidated tracking system for all complaints related to discrimination or retaliation. This tracking system will provide an extra measure off security for those who suffer from unwanted sexual advances and other instances of harassment.

Agricultural workers are often considered a vulnerable population for sexual harassment because of language barriers and immigration concerns. Victims may not be familiar with the American legal system, for instance, leading them to believe that they do not have any options when they are harassed.

In fact, all employees deserve a workplace that is free from sexual harassment. Victims may be able to recover a variety of damages after they have suffered through unwanted sexual advances, no matter the context. Whether you work in the field, factory or front office, you deserve to feel safe from sexual harassment at your job.

Source: KQED, "Big Win for Farmworkers in Sexual Harassment Case," Sasha Khokha, June 25, 2015

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