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EEOC Sues Two FL Firms for Sexual Harassment: Alleged - Farmworker Women Subjected to Rape, Coerced Sex, Groping and Verbal Abuse  

MIAMI – "No employee should be required to endure sexually degrading, abusive conduct as a condition of employment," said EEOC attorney Robert E. Weisberg. As a result of alleged conduct that violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed two separate sexual harassment law suits against two Florida companies that employ agricultural workers: Windmill Farms Nursery, Inc.; and Moreno Farms, Inc.

Windmill Farms Nursery, Inc. is a plant material wholesaler and nursery located in Zolfo Springs, FL. Moreno Farms, Inc., is a farming business with packing and distribution facilities in Felda, FL. The lawsuits were filed on Thursday afternoon.

The Allegations

The lawsuits charge the companies with sexual harassment of female agricultural workers at the hands of their supervisors. According to the EEOC, "The lawsuits underscore the EEOC's longstanding nationwide commitment to addressing the plight of this vulnerable segment of workers, who are often reluctant or unable to exercise their rights under the equal employment laws."

EEOC's lawsuit against Windmill Farms Nurseries, Inc. claims a male supervisor sexually harassed female employees who worked as planters at the nursery. The filings claim the harasser sexually propositioned a female worker and offered favors if she agreed to be his girlfriend. Additional claims include this supervisor regularly harassed another female employee, including groping her, and fired one of the victims less than a month after she rejected his sexual advances.

In the lawsuit filed against Moreno Farms, Inc., the EEOC charged that a male supervisor in Moreno Farms' packaging facility engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment, including regularly groping one female employee, demanding and having sex with her on three occasions, and threatening the employee with termination if she did not have sex with him.

The suit against Moreno Farms goes on to allege:  this supervisor ultimately terminated the employee because she refused to have sex with his brother, who supervised pickers working the fields adjacent to the packaging facility; the supervisor's brother raped a female worker; and the supervisor's male assistant raped a different female worker.

Alleged Conduct Violates Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964

The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination and prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who oppose it. The EEOC first attempted to reach pre-litigation settlements with both companies through its conciliation process.  After pre-litigation settlements failed, the EEOC filed suit. Both seek monetary and injunctive relief.

Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District Office said, "No employee should be required to endure sexually degrading, abusive conduct as a condition of employment. Female agricultural workers are no different. This lawsuit seeks to protect the civil rights of an important, but vulnerable segment of our labor force – the agricultural worker."

Malcolm Medley, district director for the Miami District Office, added, "The EEOC has a significant law enforcement duty to protect all members of the workforce, including agricultural workers, who often endure egregious violations of their rights."

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. The Miami District Office's jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

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