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PRESS RELEASE
3-23-11

Immokalee Farming Operation Committed Sexual Harassment Against Women, EEOC Charges

Federal Agency Says DiMare Ruskin Also Retaliated Against Victims of the Abuse

MIAMI -- DiMare Ruskin, Inc., a large agricultural business with operations in California and Florida, violated federal law by subjecting female employees to sexual harassment by their supervisors and retaliating against them for complaining about it, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed late yesterday.

The EEOC’s lawsuit asserted that father-and-son supervisors at the DiMare tomato facility in Immokalee, Fla., subjected female employees to severe and pervasive sexual harassment. The abuse, the EEOC said, included physical harassment such as groping and forcibly attempting to kiss the female employees, as well as verbal harassment, which included a nearly daily barrage of vulgar and unwelcome sexual comments.

The EEOC also charged that the father-and-son supervisors retaliated against the female employees because they consistently rejected the unwelcome sexual harassment. The retaliation included assigning the female employees to harsher and more physically demanding work. Ultimately, supervisors effectively terminated female workers by refusing to give them work assignments. The EEOC argued that the sexual harassment and retaliation were done with malice or reckless indifference to the female employees’ federally protected rights.

“It is crucial that the EEOC continue its efforts to eradicate sexual harassment and all other types of discrimination from the workplace whether it occurs in an office, a factory, at a construction site or in agricultural fields,” said Robert Weisberg, regional attorney of the EEOC’s Miami District Office.

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC’s suit, Case No. 2:11-cv-00158-CEH-SPC, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Ft. Myers Division, after the agency first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation efforts. The EEOC is seeking injunctive relief, including the implementation of effective anti-harassment policies and procedures, to prevent future discrimination. The EEOC is also seeking back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the former employees named in the lawsuit and other similarly situated women.

Muslima Lewis, an attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Office, added, “The EEOC will strive to ensure that anti-discrimination laws are enforced everywhere, including in agricultural businesses where workplace discrimination impacts some of the most vulnerable workers. No one, including employees whose labors help put food on the nation’s tables, should have to endure harassment on the job because of their sex, or any type of retaliatory treatment for rejecting unlawful behavior in the workplace.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.