The prevalence of anti-immigrant rhetoric has created a potentially hostile work environment for many low-wage Latino women in California and around the country. Rhetoric that portrays immigrants as unwanted and unworthy creates an atmosphere where exploitation flourishes because Latino women and other vulnerable workers are afraid to speak out. However, some brave women have been fighting back with the help of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In September, the EEOC won a $17 million jury award for five former female workers at a Miami tomato packing plant. The women endured horrific sexual abuse, including rape by the plant owner's son. In another case in October, the EEOC resolved a case involving 13 women, most of them low-wage Latinas, who endured years of unwanted physical contact and verbal sexual harassment while working at two Colorado potato companies. Three of the women were fired for resisting the harassment. Those two companies voluntarily agreed to pay $450,000, fire a manager who committed most of the harassment and extensively train employees on discrimination laws.
According to a recent report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the EEOC is the only agency that is currently working to protect agricultural workers from sexual harassment. The agency has recovered millions of dollars for victims of workplace sexual harassment and secured strong non-monetary remedies to prevent future harassment and discrimination.
Regardless of their gender, people who have been victimized by workplace sexual harassment may want to discuss their situations with an employment law attorney. After a review of the evidence, legal counsel might suggest that a claim be filed with the applicable state or federal agency.