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A victory for female farmworkers

No woman should be sexually harassed on the job, but it's even more despicable when the company routinely ignores their complaints.

But Quincy-based agricultural company Horning Brothers did exactly that when they allowed foreman Hermilo Cruz to prey on women for years.

Cruz controlled who got onion-packing jobs, which were in demand because of the scarcity of winter farm jobs. He hired only women, and then he groped them, made rude comments and gestures, and demanded sex in return for keeping their jobs. Yet when female employees brought Cruz's behavior to management's attention, they were ignored, fired, or not rehired for future seasons.

Working with Northwest Justice Project, my office took the women's complaints straight to Federal Court. Horning Brothers tried to dodge responsibility for Cruz's predatory behavior, but the court slapped that down.

Now Horning Brothers will pay $525,000 to the women, making this the largest civil rights resolution ever for Washington state.

In addition, the company must adopt a non-discrimination and anti-retaliation policy approved by my office. It also must implement employee complaint procedures – in English and Spanish – for reporting harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Finally, they're required to provide yearly trainings for management on their legal obligations.

This case highlights the high levels of discrimination and retaliation for reporting harassment experienced by women in the agricultural industry.

Sexual harassment should never be thought of as an occupational hazard for female farmworkers. It has a profound impact on their ability to work safely and productively.

As of 2015, nearly 30,000 women worked in the agriculture business – almost one-third of Washington's farm workforce. Our victory in the Horning Brothers sexual harassment case will hopefully force a culture change throughout the industry by bringing justice to the women, protecting future employees, and empowering female farmworkers whose voices have all too often been ignored.

Bob

Posted on December 3, 2018.