Federal Agency Charges County Fair Farm With Subjecting Female Farmworkers to Groping, Verbal Abuse, Solicitations for Sex
BOSTON — County Fair Farm, a farm and produce wholesaler located in Jefferson, Maine, violated federal law by creating and maintaining a sexually hostile work environment for female farmworkers since 2003, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced in a lawsuit today.
The EEOC charged that female farmworkers were groped, repeatedly propositioned for sex and subjected to lewd comments about their bodies by their supervisors and male co-workers while working at County Fair Farm. The lawsuit alleges that female farm workers repeatedly complained to County Fair Farm about the harassment, but the employer failed to take any action to correct the hostile work environment. In one case, the EEOC said, a female farm worker was subject to increased harassment after she complained and was ultimately forced to leave her job.
Such 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 filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. County Fair Farms, 14-cv- 00415-GZS) in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in Portland after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The lawsuit seeks monetary and injunctive relief.
The lawsuit, one of many similar suits filed by the agency in recent years on behalf of farmworkers, underscores the EEOC’s longstanding nationwide commitment to addressing the plight of these vulnerable workers, who are often reluctant or unable to exercise their rights under the equal employment laws.
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. Preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach is another specific SEP priority. To learn more about the EEOC’s strategic plan and enforcement priorities, visit http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/sep.cfm.
“Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and harassment,” said Robert D. Rose, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “They are entitled to the full protection of our laws, and the EEOC will vigorously enforce those laws when farmworkers are targets of abuse.”
Sara Smolik, trial attorney in the EEOC’s Boston office, added, “County Fair Farm has a responsibility to protect its workers, not tolerate harassment of them.”
For a select list of pending and resolved EEOC cases involving national origin discrimination and/or immigrant workers from 2005 to the present, see http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/litigation/selected/national_origin_immigrant_workers.cfm. For a select list of pending and resolved cases involving farmworkers from 1999 to the present, see http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/litigation/selected/farmworkers_august_2014.cfm.
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. The Boston Area Office’s jurisdiction includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.