September 30, 2013

California Sex Harassment Suffered by Farmworkers Too Often Ignored

Working out in the tomato fields of Central Valley, the young woman from Mexico was told by her supervisor that he needed her help in another area of the 15,000-acre farm.
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He drove her recklessly toward an isolated area, dense with almond trees. And there, he raped her. She would later report to the grower's administrators that it happened twice more. The response? Reassigning her to an area that was even more isolated and closer to her attacker's home.

San Bernadino Sexual Harassment Attorney Houman Fakhimi recognizes this case as one of the first ever involving an immigrant farmworker to go to trial. Ultimately, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $1 million award granted to her by a jury in the case.

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September 19, 2013

College Sexual Harassment, Assault, Takes Center Stage at Start of School Year

Nearly a dozen current and former students at Occidental College have reached a settlement with the school's top brass following a federal complaint alleging the school had improperly handled allegations of on-campus sexual harassment and sexual assault.
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Anaheim sexual harassment attorneys had been closely watching the developments of this case, as several similar cases throughout the country prompted federal authorities with the U.S. Department of Education to issue a controversial "blueprint" for campus sexual harassment policies.

With the new school year now underway, Occidental and a number of other higher education institutions have overhauled their response to complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

USA Today reported last month on ongoing federal investigations of sexual assault and harassment negligence at a number of universities.

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September 15, 2013

California Sex Harassment Claims Against L.A. Councilman Investigated

A panel established for the specific purpose of investigating claims of discrimination against elected officials in Los Angeles has convened to review the sexual harassment allegations made against Councilman Jose Huizar.
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For now, the proceedings, which were prompted by complaints from Huizar's former deputy chief of staff, are being held behind closed doors. As of yet, the complainant has not filed a lawsuit against Huizar or the city, though our Newport Beach sexual harassment lawyers understand she reserves the right to do so, even though the complaint is being reviewed by Special Committee on Investigative Oversight.

The allegations first surfaced back in June, with a formal complaint of discrimination, harassment and retaliation filed with the state's Fair Employment and Housing agency.

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September 5, 2013

Court: California Police Protected When Whistle Blowing

Police officers in California who put their careers on the line to report misconduct or corruption within their departments are to be shielded under the 1st Amendment, per a new ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
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The decision in Dahlia v. Rodriguez handed down Aug. 21 by an 11-judge panel overrides the precedent set by lower courts in earlier rulings on the same issue.

Our Santa Ana employment lawyers know this is a major victory, not only for this individual officer, but for all police in the state who felt powerless to act in the face of corruption. It should also be seen as a victory for the public, whose right to know about such issues was also upheld in the ruling.

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August 27, 2013

Sexual Harassment Claims in California Just Got Easier With SB 292

Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld its earlier controversial ruling that a dentist could fire a female employee whom he found sexually "irresistible."
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The all-male court upheld its decision saying that the termination was legal because it was based on the employer's feelings and emotions - not on the employee's gender. No matter that the employee had done nothing wrong.

Fullerton Sexual Harassment Lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows this has led to a great deal of outrage across the country. But at least in California, a recently-passed measure holds that when it comes to cases of sexual harassment, feelings don't matter much at all.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed SB 292 into law, which holds that plaintiffs need not prove that sexually harassing conduct, as defined in the state's Fair Employment Housing Act, was motivated by sexual desire.

The bill, drafted by Senate Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett (D-East Bay), was introduced following the dismissal of the plaintiff's claim in Kelley v. Conco Companies et al in the Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division Five.

In this case, a male apprentice iron worker complained that he was subjected to a barrage of sexually-demeaning and vile comments and gestures by a male supervisor over the course of his apprenticeship.

Those comments reportedly included expression of a desire to have sexual relations with the plaintiff, to force the plaintiff to engage in certain types of sexual actions and sexual comments pertaining to various parts of his body.

Male co-worker also reportedly subjected him to similar comments, which escalated to threats of physical violence due to his complaint against the supervisor. He was told that these comments were just "the way things are."

When the union subsequently suspended him from the program and he was not rehired by the firm, he filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment and retaliation.

The court found that because the supervisor was not sexually attracted to the plaintiff and his actions therefore not motivated by sexual desire, the sexual harassment case could not move forward. Specifically, the court stated that while the comments made to the plaintiff were offensive, crude and demeaning - as was clearly the intent - there is no evidence that they were an "expression of actual sexual desire or intent" by the supervisor.

"The mere fact that words may have sexual content or connotations or discuss sex is not sufficient to establish sexual harassment," the justices wrote. "...Courts have routinely insisted on evidence that an alleged harasser was acting from genuine sexual interest before holding that the fact of a sexual proposition supported an inference of discrimination because of sex."

This was widely seen as an erosion on the protections afforded workers against sexual harassment under state law.

Thankfully, the new bill changes that. As Corbett later explained, the measure will ensure that all workers in California who are sexually harassed are going to be afforded a wide range of protections - regardless of the aggressor's underlying motivation.

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August 20, 2013

Can Unpaid Interns Sue for Sexual Harassment?

Back in the mid-1990s, a young woman accepted an unpaid internship at a psychiatric care center, where the doctor in short order suggested she participate in an orgy, remove her clothes before meetings with him and dubbed her "Miss Sexual Harassment."
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Soon after, the woman filed a sexual harassment claim, O'Connor v. Davis, in the U.S. Second Circuit Court in New York.

However, our Chino sexual harassment attorneys know that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed the claim because the plaintiff was an unpaid intern. She wasn't an employee and therefore, the justices decided, she was not protected from sexual harassment under the law.

Unfortunately, as a recent ProPublica series highlighted, federal policies appear to echo this stance, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission holding that the Civil Rights Act doesn't cover interns at all unless they receive "significant remuneration." This doesn't necessarily mean the intern has to be paid, but it does mean he or she must derive significant benefits. Those could come from a third party, such as an educational institution.

The definition is somewhat vague and therefore open to interpretation.

It's deeply troubling because interns are especially vulnerable. They are young and inexperienced. Even if they wanted to complain, they often aren't sure where to go. Beyond that, they are relying on their harassers to provide a recommendation that will help them excel in their professional careers. They want a foot in the door, so they keep their mouths shut.

But there some places that are beginning to take note of this apparent loophole in sexual harassment protection.

In Oregon for example, a law was passed in June that expands protection for claims of harassment and discrimination to all interns, regardless of whether they are paid. A spokesman for the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries says Oregon is the first to approve such a measure. The state now offers protection against discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender,race, religion, sexual orientation or disability and it also covers wrongful termination connected to any form of discrimination. However, it doesn't establish any kind of employer-employment relationship and it doesn't make it mandatory for interns to be paid wages.

The District of Columbia, too, has taken some additional measures to protect interns. Councilwoman Mary Cheh was successful in getting the protections outlined in the D.C. Human Rights Act extended to all interns. The push came after Cheh became familiar with the Evans v. Washington Center for Internships case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiff interned at a chiropractor's office where the primary doctor at the location had a history of sexual misconduct that included fondling patients. During her time there, she alleges that he made sexual advances toward her, frequently made sexual comments about her appearance, attempted to massage her shoulders and wrapped his arms around her waist.

The entire ordeal forced the intern to quit the internship and alter her career plans. However, her case was ultimately dismissed because the court determined that as an intern, she lacked the protections of an employee. Cheh's efforts change that - at least in D.C.

Interns should not have to suffer in silence when these kinds of incidents occur. Don't assume your intern status means you have reached a dead end. Our Chino sexual harassment lawyers are committed to helping you explore all your legal options.

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August 10, 2013

Lack of Sex Harassment Training May Boost Liability Claim

While city council members in San Diego have declined to pay for the legal defense of an embattled mayor who is fending off claims of sexual harassment, the city could still find itself financially liable.
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San Bernadino Sexual Harassment Lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows this is particularly true if the alleged victims choose to target the fact that the city never provided the mayor with sexual harassment training.

At least eight women have so far come forward to allege the mayor sexually harassed them. Some of those allegations predate the mayor's election.

The mayor is using the argument that because the city failed to meet its legal requirement to provide him with anti-harassment training, it should have to pay for his legal defense.

So far, only one of those victims, the mayor's former communications director, has formally filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the city.

In the state of California, the state department of employment and housing requires that all private employers with 50 or more workers must provide sexual harassment training. This is the case whether those workers are full-time, part-time, temporary or contractors. There is no requirement that those workers all work at the same location.

All public employers - including city governments - have to provide sexual harassment training to employees regardless of the size.

The training required should be given to supervisory employees, who must be given two hours of instruction every two years. New supervisors have to be given instruction within the first six months of their employment.

In most cases, that training has to include instruction on both state and federal laws defining sexual harassment, the agency's principals regarding prohibition and any strategies in place to prevent unlawful sexual harassment. It must also lay forth any remedies that the firm makes available to victims of sexual harassment and it should include practical examples of what sexual harassment is and is not.

A minimum of two hours is required, though it could go on longer.

In this case, a lawyer representing the mayor has said that if there is any liability, it will be on the city for failing to prevent harassment. The trainer reportedly scheduled the session, but then canceled and never rescheduled.

However, it's worth noting that a failure to provide sexual harassment training does not excuse sexual harassment. San Diego's failure, if it's in fact true, didn't give the mayor a free pass to break the law.

The women - including the former communications director - allege that the mayor, who previously served five terms as a U.S. representative, subjected them to crude and vulgar comments, inappropriate touching (including kissing and groping) and sexual aggression. In two instances, the mayor is accused of putting a female staffer in a headlock and forcing a kiss on her.

Some of the claims took place many years ago, and may be past the statute of limitations at this point. In California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing holds that the victim must file a charge within one year from the date of the last incident. That is if the victim intends to sue.

A person can come forward at any point even if they don't sue, and there is always the possibility that their testimony could be used to bolster claims of other later victims who are suing.

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August 5, 2013

Sex Harassment Allegations Force Radio Host Off Air

A popular Spanish-language radio host suddenly disappeared from the airwaves late last month, initially with no explanation.
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Our Santa Ana sexual harassment lawyers understand it now appears that allegations of physical, sexual and emotional harassment were what led to the abrupt departure.

According to news reports, Eddi "Piolin" Sotelo was accused by one of the show's writer/producer/performers of harassment over the course of his three-year employment.

A letter was sent from the employee's attorney back in mid-April to station executives, who didn't act on the allegations until last month.

In addition to the claim of sexual harassment, the former employee alleges that Sotelo mandated that his staffers on the production team falsify letters of support to be sent for use in a high-profile campaign for immigration reform. This was an issue that Sotelo often championed on his show.

An attorney for Sotelo denies all allegations, saying they were made by a disgruntled employee. The claims were called "pure fiction" and likened to extortion, saying the plaintiff's sole goal is money.

This is a common defense tactic in these cases, and it's one for which sexual harassment victims must steel themselves. You will be painted as the aggressor and the wrong-doer. The quality of your work may be called into question. Your integrity may be called into question. You can't let this deter you. One way to ensure your reputation is protected is to hire a law firm that has proven success in this field and that is dedicated to securing justice on behalf of employees.

In this case, the documents allege that Sotelo made repeated, aggressive and unwanted sexual advances toward the victim. Those actions reportedly included the host grabbing the plaintiff's genitals and buttocks each morning when he arrived for work.

During staff meetings, the host reportedly taunted the victim by calling him offensive terms for homosexual. The host also reportedly asked constant vulgar questions regarding the employee's girlfriend.

Other former employees for the host reportedly backed the worker's claim, saying that either they have personally been subjected to the same kind of treatment or that they witnessed acts of misconduct and subsequent threats and retaliation made against those who spoke out about that misconduct.

There are also allegations of wage and labor violations. Namely, workers were made to toil long hours without appropriate overtime or breaks. When the employee in question complained to supervisors about this fact, he was chastised for being disloyal and told he would be fired if he complained again.

The plaintiff attorney initially requested a private settlement agreement with the parent company, Univision, or else he planned to file a lawsuit, in which the details would become public.

It's not clear how the Los Angeles Times received a copy of this document prior to any lawsuit being filed. The letter alleges that the company turned a blind eye to Sotelo's inappropriate behavior because he was making them so much money. However, in doing so, the firm reportedly not only broke with internal policy, but also state and federal employment laws, including those pertaining to sexual harassment.

The employee went on medical leave earlier this year, however returned to work in June, just one month before Sotelo was asked to leave.

Sotelo's program has aired throughout the country on approximately 50 stations. The show has been on the air for 10 years.

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July 21, 2013

Chino Sexual Harassment Claim Garners Federal Attention

Authorities with the U.S. Department of Justice have taken up the cause of a male prison cook, employed in a state youth corrections center in Chino, who was reportedly sexually harassed by a female co-worker for months with no intervention from supervisors who knew what was happening.
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Our Chino sexual harassment lawyers note his lawsuit indicates that not only were his complaints ignored by administrators within the prison system, he was openly mocked for not being able to "take it" from a "whiny woman."

His harasser was not a supervisor. In fact, the two shared the same title. But we find this kind of reaction particularly common when we are talking about a male worker who accuses a female of this kind of aggression and/or harassment. There is a misconception that such behavior is secretly welcome or that the accuser should have no trouble fending it off.

At best, this is misguided and, under most circumstances, it's illegal. Employers have a responsibility to address such actions, which in this case involved not only sexual innuendos, blatant romantic come-ons and, on at least one occasion, a sexual assault.

According to court documents, the male employee worked as a cook at the corrections center with the female employee, who was also a cook, for about a year before the harassment started.

It began with repeated propositions from the female employee. She asked him several times "what it would take" to convince him to have sexual intercourse with her. She made repeated comments about his body, his genitalia and what she hoped to do to him.

At first, he tried to brush these comments aside. But his co-workers behavior only escalated. In one instance, he reported he was carrying some trays upstairs to her when she met him the stairway, her blouse unbuttoned. She propositioned him. He turned and walked away.

He said at this point, he outright told her to stop. He said her actions and comments were offensive and unwelcome. But this reportedly did not stop her.

Then one day in mid-August, 2008, the woman approached him from behind, smacked him in the head and yelled at him for speaking to another female colleague, whom she referred to by an offensive term. She then proceeded to put her hand down the front of his pants, grabbed his genitalia and demanded to know when he was going to "let me do something about this."

The incident, which horrified and humiliated him, was witnessed by two supervisors in the kitchen. The following day, the male worker complained to one of those supervisors that he was tired of the harassment. He wanted it to stop. That supervisor in turn took the complaint to her supervisor.

The superior reportedly laughed at the complaint, mocking the plaintiff for being a military man who was unable to "take it."

Nothing was done. He continued to make complaints. Supervisors continued to do nothing. When one of his immediate supervisors attempted to take it up the chain of command, it was pushed back down in what the administrator said was the policy of the prison system, to handle complaints at the lowest level.

It wasn't until the following spring that the prison system opened an internal investigation into the matter. After several months, it was concluded that yes, the female worker's actions had been inappropriate and had violated policy with regard to sexual harassment. And still, nothing was done.

In fact, the two continued to work together until the fall, when the woman was placed on leave and eventually fired for a totally unrelated offense.

This lengthy road to action, pocked by inaction and a blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of employees, was the reason the DOJ is now stepping in.

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July 20, 2013

Los Angeles Police Criticized for Failure to Reduce Sex Harassment Liability

The Los Angeles Police Department is facing harsh criticism over policies that allowed sexual harassment and discrimination to flourish, even after the agency had been successfully sued on numerous occasions.
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Westminster Sexual Harassment Lawyer Houman Fakhimi understands that over the last six years, the city has reportedly shelled out some $110 million in either jury awards or settlements for lawsuits involving Los Angeles Police Department personnel. That's according to a report from the inspector general.

Of that $110 million, about 28 percent - or $31 million - was spent on claims that involved sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.

Five years ago, then-Mayor Antonia Villaraigosa issued an executive order mandating that the city and the police department reduce its exposure to litigation. This would have presumably meant taking on extensive measures to reduce sexual harassment and retaliation.

However, whether the agency is in compliance with this is anyone's guess. The reason is because the police department's division of legal affairs has a practice of destroying records of closed cases.

The inspector general's recent report said this practice barred investigators from verifying whether the information contained in the legal affairs' division electronic database was in fact accurate. The IG's office had tried to audit some 30 files stemming from allegations made in the past five years. But the agency wasn't able to conduct an audit because those records didn't exist.

Even absent those records, the legal affairs department's database is not complete, as several of the fields reportedly contain blatant inconsistencies when compared with the information contained at the City Attorney's Office regarding those same cases. So either the databases were poorly-designed and managed or they were purposely changed. Either way, neither is reflective of an agency that is serious about tackling what is clearly a very real problem among the ranks.

Additionally, the inspector general's office said there was no way to calculate the actual costs of that litigation. That is, the office may be able to determine how much the city paid to satisfy the settlement. However, absent records reflecting how many people were working on a particular case and to what extent, it is impossible to calculate the actual litigation costs - which, you may have surmised, are paid by taxpayers.

Still, the OIG was able to estimate that the agency's overall cost of defending workplace litigation between 2006 and 2012 was about $43 million. The OIG office concluded that the police department needs to do more in the future to prevent employees from filing similar complaints.

Of course, this misses the point. The problem is not the employees filing the complaints. Rather, it is the underlying issue of a law enforcement culture that allows workplace discrimination and sexual harassment to thrive unabated.

While the OIG did note that the agency routinely provides training to managers no broad topics of employment issues, there is no evidence that the department takes measure to educate supervisors on the lessons learned from these specific cases. There is no specific guidance on how to handle the particulars of an employment-related liability claim. Additionally, there is no internal system established to identify the kinds of risk behaviors that are responsible for adverse court case outcomes, which could then be applied to prevent litigation.

For sexual harassment lawyers, the findings are two-fold. On one hand, they create an opportunity for employees who have faced sexual harassment or discrimination within the LAPD to show that the agency does not appear interested in addressing these ongoing issues.

However, one of the reasons plaintiffs often work up the courage to come forward with their allegations is because they don't want those who come after to endure what they did. Knowing that even if they win their cases, the culture of the agency won't change, is likely to be a disappointment to many.

The fact that an outside entity is closely scrutinizing this should be seen as a positive step forward.

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July 10, 2013

College Adviser Sexual Harassment Alleged by Student

Our Newport Beach sexual harassment lawyers have written extensively about the widespread - and often ignored - problem of sexual harassment on college campuses.
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It continues to proliferate, in large part because administrators, faculty and advisers take advantage of a student's vulnerability, desire to please and succeed and lack of understanding about what constitutes sexual harassment and what rights they have to protect against it. In many cases, much like victims of sexual assault, college student victims will internalize the blame, assuming that they somehow brought it upon themselves.

What we try to help our student clients understand is that they should not under any circumstances feel responsible for the inappropriate or illegal actions of someone else, particularly someone who tried to use their power to exploit someone in a lesser position for purposes of their own sexual gratification.

One of the most recent cases of this involves a journalism student at a small college in Pasadena, who alleges that the adviser of the campus newspaper made repeated unwanted sexual advances toward him. When the openly-gay student refused to submit to those advances, he claims the adviser retaliated by slashing his grades and refusing his newspaper entries.

In the suit, the student seeks $100,000 in damages - an amount the college's board of trustees has initially rejected. However, the faculty member in question remains on administrative leave pending the completion of an internal investigation into his alleged misconduct.

The faculty member had been adviser to the college newspaper for the last five years. When he was put on leave, an outcry was raised by both teachers and students, who alleged the action was taken due to the paper's critical coverage of campus leaders.

However, as it turned out, it had more to do with the adviser's alleged actions behind closed doors. For some time, the student says the professor responded to his work with positivity and praise. At one point, the adviser even asked him out for a beer.

But one day, the adviser called the student into his office and handed him a nude photograph of himself. He asked the student what he thought. The student, uncomfortable, twice changed the suspect. Disappointed, the adviser asked that the exchange be kept private.

After that, the student says the professor became highly critical of his work, often denying his articles entry into the final published version of the paper and handing him poor grades for work the student felt was above average.

The student said all of this forced him to stop attending the adviser's classes and seek treatment for headaches, stress, depression and anxiety.

The sudden about-face in the pair's working relationship is reportedly backed in e-mails, mark-ups on assignments and revisions on stories.

An attorney representing the adviser pointed to the man's tenured position and said that such allegations shouldn't warrant a leave of absence. But tenure doesn't make a professor above the law.

The allegations as described almost certainly amount to sexual harassment, and should be dealt with accordingly by both the college and the courts. Students should never be made to feel as if they don't have the right to speak up about such treatment.

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July 5, 2013

California Sexual Harassment a Daily Battle for Immigrant Farm Workers

As the federal government wrestles with how to handle the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, the House recently passing a bill that would provide fast-track residency status to California farm workers. Still, those in the fields face additional burdens.
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Orange County Sexual Harassment Lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows that for immigrant farm workers, particularly females, sexual harassment and even sexual assault is a constant threat.

As it is, these women are far from their families, their support systems and a familiar culture. They work in sweltering, back-breaking conditions for a pittance that they desperately need and feel constantly under the threat of being discovered by immigration officials.

Their circumstances leave them vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse by both co-workers and supervisors. They feel they have no one to turn to and often, they may fear retaliation or reprisal or they don't realize that they are protected under the law.

One of those who is the exception is a 40-year-old grandmother and farm worker in Salinas. A few years ago, she said she faced daily sexual harassment by her supervisor. First, he began asking her for a massage. Then, he would detail the ways he wanted to "be with" her. His suggestions seemed to become more lewd by the day.

This made her extremely uncomfortable, but she didn't know what to do or where to turn. One day, on the way back from the fields, he told her the two of them needed to pick up some boxes. In an empty clearing, she says, he raped her. She described how she couldn't even scream because she was in such shock and horror.

She didn't file a police report. She was afraid to go to management, afraid she would be fired. She needed that work to feed her family. Her supervisor had told her that if she told anyone, he would make sure there were no other opportunities for her.

So she endured another seven months of facing this man every day. Finally, seven months later, she worked up the courage to file a complaint. She ultimately reasoned that she had daughters and sisters. She never wanted them to have to endure what she had been forced to endure.

Unsurprisingly, she was fired soon after lodging the complaint. She followed that with a civil lawsuit against the company. The supervisor of course denied the allegations, but the firm agreed to settle with her for an undisclosed amount three years ago. The terms of the settlement bar her from naming the company or how much was paid.

But her case is rare in that few immigrant women take the step of reporting what is happening to them.

A spokesman for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the entire farm worker system is established on the basis of a power imbalance. You have a supervisor who has the power to hire, fire, promote or retaliate. If that individual is a sexual predator, he or she is in a strong position to abuse that power. The immigrant may view her very survival as dependent on their compliance - and silence.

The EEOC reports that in the last 15 years, it has handled some 185 charges of sexual harassment in the agricultural industry. That's more than what is seen in any other state, but it's still believed to be a very skewed reflection of the problem. The actual number of harassment and assault incidents are almost assuredly much higher.

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