On Thursday, a Miami federal jury ordered Moreno Farms Inc., a produce farming operation in southern Florida, to pay $17.4 million to five former employees who were victims of sexual harassment and retaliation. The award was for $15 million in punitive damages and $2.4 million in compensatory damages.
The victims were hired between October and December 2011 to work as vegetable packagers inside the farm’s warehouse facility. The farm owner’s sons, who were also supervisors, were among three supervisors accused of sexually harassing female migrant workers, including groping and raping them. According to the Complaint in the case, the female workers were also victims of offensive comments and repeated threats that they would be fired if they refused the men’s sexual advances. In one instance, Omar Moreno allegedly told one plaintiff who rejected his repeated propositions for sex, “I know you need this job, you need to do what I say or you will die of hunger.” The Complaint also alleged that some of the victims were raped inside mobile home trailers near the area where they worked and that all of them were eventually fired by the farm in retaliation for refusing their harassers.
“Having long been silenced by shame and fear, this trial offered these five women the opportunity to give voice publicly to their experiences and their desire for justice,” Beatriz André, an EEOC lawyer said in a statement.
Joshua Newville is a Minnesota employment lawyer, civil rights attorney, and mediator. Josh litigates and advises on such matters as wrongful termination, whistleblowers, discrimination, police misconduct, and more. He offers paid legal consultations and free online case reviews regarding employment law and civil rights.