Language Barrier Can Be Key for Immigrants

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jul 1 16:18:04 UTC 2008

Language Barrier Can Be Key for Immigrants

This is not a story about Homeland Security issues. Instead, it
involves severe sexual harassment and retaliation, complicated by a
language barrier. Lots of legal Mexican immigrants worked for a large
California farm producer. One of them repeatedly complained of sexual
assault by a supervisor and harassment by co-workers. Very little was
done about her complaints.

What happened. A woman worked, usually harvesting almonds, for Harris
Farms. She later testified that the man who supervised her for more
than 6 years raped her three times in the early 1990s, threatening to
kill both her and her husband if she told anyone. Without revealing
the assaults, she complained that he was harassing her. He retired in
1999, but the women's co-workers then began a vicious sexual gossip
campaign against her. She complained often, but sometimes nothing was
done, or her Spanish complaints were mistranslated for
English-speaking investigators, or she was punished along with her
co-workers, she says.

By March 2001, she was so fearful of attack and more retaliation that
she quit, she says. She filed a charge with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued for her in September 2002.
When she learned of the suit, she joined it in January 2004. A federal
district court jury heard her and several witnesses and found Harris
Farms liable for harassment, retaliation, and constructive discharge,
awarding her nearly $800,000. And, EEOC won an injunction requiring
the employer to provide new policies, extensive training, certified
translators, and more. Harris Farms appealed all of that to the 9th
Circuit, which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho,
Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

What the court said. Appellate judges upheld the jury's verdict, the
damages award, and all the provisions of the injunction against the
employer. They noted especially that throughout her employment, Harris
Farms had failed to update its 1989 antiharassment policy, which
lacked examples of misconduct; very often had no full-time HR person;
and never had a qualified translator. The employer must pay both the
woman's award and the costs of training and other activities. EEOC &
Tamayo v. Harris Farms, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, No.
05-16945437 (4/17/08).

Point to remember: It took tremendous courage and perseverance for her
to pursue her workplace battle and lengthy lawsuit. As the case
unfolded, she was hailed by farmworkers and advocacy organizations.

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