I recently participated in a training session to learn about sexual harassment as it relates to migrant and seasonal farmworkers (MSFWs). The training was conducted by Monica Ramirez, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Women’s Initiative.
Although men and children may be victims, women face sexual violence at a much greater rate. As it is, MSFWs face substandard working, housing, and other conditions. To compound the issue, some women are threatened with action against family members, such as all being fired. These things make women more vulnerable.
Sexual harassment can be physical or verbal. It can include unwanted comments, touching, propositions, pornographic images, sexting, voyeurism, and exhibitionism. It can escalate to sexual assault and rape. Being subjected to these actions may alter the conditions of employment and create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. Although an individual employee, such as a supervisor or farm labor contractor, may be the harasser, the employer is held responsible.
The major law which prohibits sexual harassment is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII. It covers businesses which have 15 or more employees. The Kansas Act Against Discrimination also prohibits sexual harassment and covers businesses with 4 or more employees. Both Acts impose a time limit for filing complaints: 180 days under the Civil Rights Act and 6 months under the Kansas Act.
MSFWs who are being harassed should seek help as soon as possible — do not wait until the end of the growing season or upon returning to the home base. Complaints are best resolved if filed in the location where the harassment occurs.
Ms. Ramirez advises that legal counsel, either a private attorney or through the local Legal Services office, should be obtained. Contact with local law enforcement should be made if the harassment is actually assault or rape.
Information for filing a complaint is available from:U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Civil Rights Act) St. Louis, Missouri, District Office (covers Kansas) PH: 1 (800) 669-6890 Kansas Human Rights Commission (Kansas Act Against Discrimination) Topeka, Kansas (covers all of Kansas) (785) 296-3206 Kansas Legal Services (covers all of Kansas) PH: 1 (800) 723-6953