Thursday, April 26, 2018
Business

Tomato workers win sexual harassment suit against DiMare Ruskin

RUSKIN — A local tomato grower will pay $150,000 to two female farm workers and set up new procedures for dealing with harassment claims, settling a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

According to the EEOC complaint against DiMare Ruskin Inc., two women were allegedly sexually harassed by their supervisors when they worked at the company's tomato fields in Immokalee in 2009. The women were fired when they complained, the complaint alleged.

One of the largest tomato growers in Florida, DiMare owns farmland in Manatee and Hillsborough counties. The 82-year-old family-owned business also runs packaging plants in Riverview and Apollo Beach.

"In the past, employers have gotten away with allowing their field bosses to sexual harass and abuse farm workers," said Peter Helwig, the women's lawyer. "This case sends a message to agribusiness that they can no longer get away with that."

According to the complaint, a crew leader told one of the women he wanted to kiss her all over her body and on her breasts and that he wouldn't stop pursuing her. The man also forced the woman's hand to his crotch, according to the suit.

As part of the settlement, DiMare Ruskin will establish a nationwide anti-harassment policy for employees. The company also will provide nationwide training to its employees on antidiscrimination laws and report to the EEOC on its discrimination complaints for three years.

"Sexual harassment against women in the agricultural industry is a big problem," said Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney of the EEOC's Miami District Office.

"DiMare Ruskin took a major step in the right direction by agreeing to establish nationwide policies and procedures designed to prevent sexual harassment in the future and to provide a means for employees to complain when they feel they are being subjected to it," he said in a June 16 statement announcing the decision.

The settlement is not only a victory for the two women involved in the case but for all farm workers at DiMare, said Nely Rodriguez of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers. Coalition staff heard the women's initial complaint and helped alert the EEOC.

"The settlement is great news for everyone involved, first and foremost, of course, for the women who suffered such unspeakable humiliation at the hands of their supervisors," Rodriguez said.

"It is also great news for all the workers from this day forward at DiMare Ruskin Farms who will undoubtedly benefit from the changes brought about through the courage and tenacity of these two remarkable women.

"For too long, the industry responded to accusations of farm labor abuse with denial and opposition, and this settlement is a vestige of that approach."

Rodriguez said the case also highlighted the need for the Fair Food Program, a coalition initiative that includes, among other things, a code of conduct and education for the Florida tomato industry.

"Labor abuse in the fields is real, and it won't go away if we all just stick our heads in the sand," she said. "Rather we have to confront that reality, work together to expose and eliminate the abusers, and move forward together as a stronger industry."

Calls to DiMare were not returned.

Kevin Brady can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Yelp search results reflected racist stereotype that Asian American restaurants serve cat and dog

Yelp search results reflected racist stereotype that Asian American restaurants serve cat and dog

A strange thing happened when typing "dog menu" into the restaurant ratings website and app Yelp. It automatically generated suggested searches. There were dog massage, hot dogs, pet groomers. Also: "dog meat." But it got more disturbing. Take Yelp...
Updated: 11 hours ago
As more emotional support animals fly on U.S. airlines, Congress eyes new ways to tighten the leash

As more emotional support animals fly on U.S. airlines, Congress eyes new ways to tighten the leash

WASHINGTON — With hundreds of thousands of emotional support animals taking to the skies on U.S. airlines, Congress may start pulling a tighter leash.Two new legislative options emerged this week to address a hairy issue for American Airlines, Southw...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Duke Energy announces new Florida leadership

Duke Energy announces new Florida leadership

ST. PETERSBURG — The head of Duke Energy Florida is leaving his post to take a new role with the utility’s parent company June 1, the company announced on Wednesday.Harry Sideris, 47, was appointed this week to serve as vice president and chief distr...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Comcast challenges Murdoch with rival bid for U.K.-based Sky

LONDON — U.S. media giant Comcast on Wednesday offered $30.7 billion for Sky PLC, topping a bid from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and setting up a bidding war for Britain’s biggest satellite TV company.Comcast said it would pay approximately $17...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Sprouts Farmers Market to open new store in Pasco County

Sprouts Farmers Market to open new store in Pasco County

TRINITY — Pasco County will be getting its first Sprouts Farmers Market, the organic grocery chain announced Wednesday. The new store will open at the Village at Mitchell Ranch on State Road 54 and Little Road. Officials with the speciality st...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Circle K launching own gas at eight Hillsborough locations

Circle K launching own gas at eight Hillsborough locations

TAMPA — Circle K is converting the gas station portion of eight of its Hillsborough locations to Circle K fuel. Previously, the fuel was provided by other brands, such as Shell. The new Circle K branding also brings with it the Canadian-owned conveni...
Published: 04/25/18
Florida leads other hurricane-prone states in quality of its building codes

Florida leads other hurricane-prone states in quality of its building codes

Florida has the strongest residential building codes among 18 coastal states, according to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. Florida’s rating is 95, almost three times higher than lowest-ranked Texas. Other states wit...
Published: 04/25/18
Study: Tampa Bay homes in once ‘redlined’ neighborhoods worth half those in other areas

Study: Tampa Bay homes in once ‘redlined’ neighborhoods worth half those in other areas

Times staffRedlining’ — banks’ refusal to make mortgage loans in certain areas — still has a huge effect on housing values even though the practice was banned 50 years ago. According to Zillow, a Tampa Bay house in a once-redlined area is worth less ...
Published: 04/25/18
Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opens first Tampa restaurant, Nebraska Mini-Mart grab-and-go coming soon

Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opens first Tampa restaurant, Nebraska Mini-Mart grab-and-go coming soon

NOW OPEN: TEX-MEX CHAIN CHUY’SThe Austin, Texas-based Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opened its first Tampa restaurant on Tuesday, giving away free Chuy’s for two for a year to the first 50 customers. I know, we missed it, it’s a bummer, but we can still visit...
Published: 04/25/18
Clearwater looks to move out of City Hall to speed up Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment

Clearwater looks to move out of City Hall to speed up Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment

CLEARWATER — Elected officials have talked about relocating City Hall from the downtown bluff for a good 30 years. Now there’s a jolt of urgency to actually do it.Voters backed a referendum in November that essentially greenlighted the $55 million re...
Published: 04/25/18