U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Female Agricultural Worker Was Subjected to Sexual Harassment by Crew Leader and Fired for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged
Tampa, Fla. - Windmill Farms Nurseries, Inc., a plant material wholesaler and nursery located in Zolfo Springs, Fla., will pay $40,000 and furnish other relief to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC charged the company with subjecting a female employee, Sheila Aguilar, to sexual harassment and retaliation by her immediate supervisor, crew leader Alvaro DeSantiago.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, DeSantiago sexually harassed female employees who worked as planters at the nursery under his direct supervision. The EEOC claims that the harasser sexually propositioned Aguilar and offered favors if she agreed to be his girlfriend. The supervisor allegedly fired Aguilar less than a month after she rejected his sexual advances.
Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed this suit (EEOC v. Windmill Farms Nurseries, Inc., Case 8:14-cv-2116) in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida following an investigation and after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
Under the three-year consent decree resolving the EEOC's claims, besides the monetary relief, Windmill Farms Nurseries has agreed to conduct training in Spanish and English for its workers and management. The training will specifically cover sexual harassment. The company will also create and implement a new written anti-discrimination policy to be available to employees in English and Spanish. Windmill Farms Nurseries will also post a notice about the lawsuit at the nursery and report future sexual harassment complaints to the EEOC for the duration of the decree.
"It is critical for employers to take diligent steps to prevent and adequately address sexual harassment," said EEOC Tampa Director Georgia Marchbanks. "This is especially true in a situation like this, where the female workers speak little to no English and are largely unaware of their right to be free from discrimination."
EEOC Miami Regional Attorney Robert Weisberg added, "We trust that the training and implementation of the new anti-discrimination policy, to be available to workers in Spanish and English, will help prevent future sexual harassment among this vulnerable population of agricultural workers. Our goal is for workers to be aware of their rights and to be free from harassment; and for management to know how to take steps to prevent and address sexual harassment, keeping employees free from retaliation."
Eliminating discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under equal employment laws or reluctant or unable to exercise them is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). These policies can include disparate pay, job segregation, harassment and human trafficking.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The Miami District Office's jurisdiction includes Florida, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency's website at www.eeoc.gov.