Protecting "Vulnerable Workers" Still An EEOC Priority

I wrote many a post in my prior blog about the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”), which made protecting “vulnerable” workers a priority.  I said before that protecting farm workers, migrant workers, workers in isolated areas, and mentally-challenged Henry’s Turkey workers was something that the EEOC was focusing on.  It still is.

But some employers either ignore the EEOC and the law, or don’t read my blog.

Agriculture, Field, Rural, Nature

In furtherance of its SEP, the EEOC just sued a Florida organic farm for hostile work environment based upon national origin and color, and retaliation. It alleged that the kitchen manager and assistant managers repeatedly called Hispanic kitchen workers racial and other epithets and made comments such as “You Mexicans are ignorant,” “Mexicans are lazy,” and “These Mexicans are stupid.”  Allegedly, one employee of Guatemalan origin was repeatedly referred to as “negra” and “the chocolate one,” and was fired after filing an EEOC charge.

A year ago I discussed a very similar suit filed by the EEOC which charged a Maine farm and produce wholesaler with maintaining a sexually hostile work environment for female farmworkers who were “groped, repeatedly propositioned for sex and subjected to lewd comments about their bodies by their supervisors and male co-workers” over the course of years.  And despite repeated complaints by the workers, the company took no action, and, indeed, forced one employee to leave.

Sounds like this new lawsuit.

An EEOC attorney said about the new suit that “Discrimination based on a person’s national origin or the color of one’s skin is unacceptable in the workplace, especially in an area as culturally and ethnically diverse as South Florida.”  And the EEOC’s new press release stated: “Combating discrimination against agricultural workers falls within one of EEOC’s priorities under its Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP): protecting immigrant, migrant and other vulnerable workers.”

Takeaway:  My takeaway today is the same as my takeaway from last year, and it is a verbatim quote from the EEOC’s release announcing last year’s Maine lawsuit (and virtually the same as its new release):

“The lawsuit, one of many similar suits filed by the agency in recent years on behalf of farmworkers, underscores the EEOC’s longstanding nationwide commitment to addressing the plight of these vulnerable workers, who are often reluctant or unable to exercise their rights under the equal employment laws.”

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]