Five female vegetable packers have been awarded a staggering $17.4 million in what must be one of the most shocking sexual harassment cases ever brought to a US court.
The Hispanic women had been working for Moreno Farms Inc. when they suffered severe harassment and retaliation at the hands of Omar and Oscar Moreno – whose father owned the Florida farm and packing facility – and a third male supervisor, Javier Garcia.
According to an EEOC news release, the women said the men “engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment against female workers in Moreno Farms’ packaging house, including regular groping and propositioning, threatening female employees with termination if they refused the supervisors’ sexual advances, and attempting to rape, and raping, multiple female employees.”
According to EEOC attorneys, the lawsuit aimed to address the plight of “this vulnerable segment of workers who are often reluctant or unable to exercise their rights under equal employment laws.”
One woman accused Omar Moreno of frequently groping her in public, refusing to stop despite repeated complaints and even forcing her to have sex with him.
“Omar Moreno repeatedly demanded that Aguilar have sex with him and stated that he would fire her if she did not do so,” said the court affidavit.
Moreno would order the woman out of the work line and take her to a nearby trailer where she had sex with him “on three occasions because she feared losing her job if she did not do so,” the complaint said.
He told her “not to tell anyone about having sex with him.”
On one occasion, Moreno instructed the woman to go to the trailer to have sex with his brother, Oscar but she refused.
“Omar Moreno became enraged and told [her] that he would terminate her employment,” the complaint said. She was eventually fired in March 2012.
The jury granted the five women – all of whom had been fired for confronting the tormentors – $2.4 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages.
EEOC attorney Robert Weisberg said the federal jury’s verdict sent a “clear message to the agricultural industry that the law will not tolerate subjecting female farm workers to sexual harassment and that there are severe consequences when a sex-based hostile work environment is permitted to exist.”