04/07/2006

Celebratory Event Will Educate Farmworkers About Their Civil Rights

Migrant farmworkers and farmworker advocates throughout Florida will gather in Wimauma, Fla., on April 25 to participate in an event sponsored by Esperanza: The Immigrant Women's Legal Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

"Sowing Seeds of Tolerance" is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 25, at the Beth-El Farmworker Ministry. The event will celebrate the contributions of Florida's farmworkers and educate workers about their civil rights. Keynote speaker U.S. EEOC Commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru will explain to workers their rights when faced with workplace discrimination, including gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

"Sexual harassment against farmworker women is a pervasive problem," said Mónica Ramírez, director of Esperanza, which means "hope" in Spanish. "For farmworker women, this harassment ranges from inappropriate comments, touching, and grabbing to the most extreme cases of rape in the fields."

Migrant farmworker Olivia Tamayo of Lemoore, Cal., the first female farmworker to successfully sue her employer for sexual harassment, will be presented an award at the event. Tamayo endured sexual harassment for six years. She complained to her employer, but the company failed to protect her. With EEOC help, Tamayo sued Harris Farms, and in January 2005, a jury awarded her $1 million. The case is on appeal.

The first Esperanza Award will be presented to Tamayo for her courageous pursuit of justice and for her leadership in the movement to end sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace, Ramirez said.

"Olivia Tamayo is an amazing role model for farmworker women, all women and all workers," Ramírez said. "Farmworker women are often terrified to complain about sexual harassment and sexual assault. Their harassers tell them that no one will ever believe them and that they have no rights. Olivia's case is proof to other women that these harassers are wrong."

Also participating in the April 25 event is Mily Trevino-Sauceda, founder of Lideres Campesinas, the first farmworker womens' empowerment group in California. Trevino-Sauceda has succeeded in organizing over 500 farmworker women around the issues of sexual harassment, domestic violence, workplace safety, health, and fair wages. Lideres Campesinas helped connect Tamayo with the EEOC in California.

"Sowing the Seeds of Tolerance" is held in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.