Maine Farm Subjected Farmworkers to Abuse Since 2003, Federal Agency Charged
BOSTON - The federal district court in Portland, Maine has approved a consent decree resolving discrimination litigation brought by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against County Fair Farm, the federal agency announced today.
The four-year consent decree settling the suit provides for ongoing monitoring of County Fair Farm by EEOC. As part of the resolution, the farm has agreed to enact, for the first time, policies and procedures to prevent sexual harassment and retaliation. The decree also requires the farm to post anti-discrimination notices in English and Spanish and to provide training to employees to prevent sexual harassment and ensure workers are aware of their right to work in an environment free from unlawful discrimination in the future. In addition, County Fair Farm has agreed that it will no longer employ the alleged perpetrators of the sexual harassment. The consent decree also provides for the establishment of a $120,000 fund to compensate harassment victims identified by EEOC.
According to EEOC's suit, County Fair Farm violated federal law by creating and maintaining a sexually hostile work environment for female farmworkers since 2003. EEOC said the harassment included groping, explicit sex-related comments, and repeated requests for sexual favors. When one victim rejected the sexual advances, she was subject to increased harassment, including threats of violence. Complaints to the farm's owners were ignored, EEOC said.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In October 2014, EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine (EEOC v. County Fair Farm, Case No. 2014-cv-00415), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"Unfortunately, many migrant workers suffer unlawful harassment and retaliation in silence, afraid of jeopardizing their jobs and their ability to provide for themselves and their families," said EEOC Trial Attorney Sara Smolik. "We commend the lead claimant for the bravery she demonstrated by filing the discrimination charge with EEOC. This not only alerted us to long-standing abuse in this workplace, but led to this resolution, which requires County Fair Farm to put a stop to this misconduct."
EEOC New York District Director Kevin Berry said, "It is imperative that employers take seriously their responsibility to prevent sexual harassment and put an end to it once they become aware of it."
Raechel Adams, acting regional attorney for the agency's New York District Office, added, "Protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers is one of EEOC's six national strategic enforcement priorities. We are committed to protecting vulnerable workers, whether they work on a small farm or for a large corporate employer."
EEOC's New York District Office oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.