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A federal jury in Miami returned a $17.4 million verdict against a produce and packing firm charged with sexual harassment, including instances of rape, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced.
Moreno Farms Inc. in Felda, Florida, was sued in federal court last year by the EEOC on behalf of five former workers after the agency first attempted to reach a prelitigation settlement, the EEOC said Thursday in a statement.
According to the suit, two sons of the owner of Moreno Farms and a third male supervisor sexually harassed multiple female employees, including acts of rape, attempted rape, regular groping and threatening to fire employees if they did not accede to their propositions. All five women involved in the suit were later fired for not giving in to the three men.
On Thursday, the jury awarded $2.4 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages to the former workers. The trial was limited to damages, as the corporate defendant defaulted and did not participate in the trial, the EEOC said in the statement.
“The jury’s verdict today should serve as a clear message to the agricultural industry that the law will not tolerate subjecting female farm workers to sexual harassment and that there are severe consequences when a sex-based hostile work environment is permitted to exist,” Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Office, said in the statement.