$17,425,000 Verdict in Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Lawsuit Against Packaging House

Friday, September 11, 2015

A federal jury has returned a unanimous verdict awarding a total of $17,425,000 to five former female employees of Moreno Farms, Inc., a produce growing and packing operation in Felda, Fla., who suffered sexual harassment and retaliation.  

According to EEOC's suit, two sons of the owner of Moreno Farms and a third male supervisor engaged in graphic acts of sexual harassment against female workers in Moreno Farms' packaging house, including regular groping and propositioning, threatening female employees with termination if they refused the supervisors' sexual advances, and attempting to rape, and raping, multiple female employees.  All five women were ultimately fired for opposing the three men's sexual harass­ment. 

Sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about it violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The case was tried by EEOC Trial Attorneys Beatriz André and Daniel Seltzer. 

This case was filed on Aug. 29, 2014 along with another, separate lawsuit charging an agricul­tural nursery with sexual harassment of a female worker at the hands of her supervisors.  These lawsuits sought to raise awareness of, and underscore EEOC's longstanding nationwide commit­ment to, addressing the plight of this vulnerable segment of workers, who are often reluctant or unable to exercise their rights under equal employment laws.  

On Sept. 10, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in the Moreno Farms case, awarding $2,425,000 in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages to the five female farmworkers, who intervened in EEOC's suit and were represented by Victoria Mesa-Estrada of Mesa and Coe Law, P.A. and Gregory S. Schell, managing attorney for Florida Legal Services' Migrant Farmworker Justice Project.   

The trial was limited to damages, as the corporate defendant defaulted and did not participate in the trial.  The court has also reserved jurisdiction to hear requests for injunctive relief from EEOC as well as whether those damages awarded for violations of Title VII should be reduced to statutory damage caps.

Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is one of the six national priorities identified by the Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).  Eliminating practices that prohibit individuals from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes is another one of EEOC's six national priorities.

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