While picking tomatoes for DiMare Ruskin, one of Florida's largest growers, Catalina Ramirez says her crew leader would repeatedly ask her for sex, according to a lawsuit.
He would tell her he wanted to kiss her all over, and that she would regret turning down his advances because he is "well-endowed," the lawsuit claims.
In the same Immokalee fields, Lucia Reyes says she was groped and sexually taunted by her male supervisor, according to the suit.
Both ended up without work. And both ended up filing complaints of sexual harassment with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The EEOC sued DiMare last year in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. This week, the EEOC announced that the company -- affiliated with DiMare Fresh, which has fields from Homestead to California -- will pay a $150,000 settlement.
DiMare representatives did not return requests for comments.
Said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami District office of the EEOC: "Just the fact that this case went forward, that these women had the courage to come forward, that the EEOC sought justice," will hopefully encourage other agricultural workers to "stand up" for their rights.
The settlement requires DiMare to implement a company-wide anti-harassment policy, create a system for employees to submit complaints to the company, and provide training about the EEOC's anti-discrimination laws. The company also has to keep the EEOC updated about how it handles discrimination complaints for the next three years.
"Other growers will look at this as an example of something that they can do proactively. If they don't have these procedures in place, it ought to be sort of a wake up call that they do need to put them in place," Weisberg said.
Weisberg said harassment of women farm workers is systemic, citing a 95-page report released in May by Human Rights Watch.
The organization interviewed 52 agricultural workers, nearly all of whom reported they had experienced rape, verbal abuse and exhibitionism while working in growing fields and poultry houses.
Many of the women don't report the abuse because they are afraid to lose their jobs or because they are undocumented immigrants scared of being deported, the report says. Excluding the Panhandle, 693 cases of harassment were reported to the EEOC in 2011 from across all sectors.
For advocates at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, such conditions are an almost daily reality. The women named in the EEOC suit first came to the coalition for help. The Human Rights Study found that workers with access to such support groups were more likely to report abuses.
"Labor abuse in the fields is real, and it won't go away if we all just stick our heads in the sand," Nely Rodriguez, a staff member for the coalition, wrote in an email. "Rather we have to confront that reality, work together to expose and eliminate the abusers, and move forward together as a stronger industry."
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