Migrant farmworker Olivia Tamayo, who endured sexual harassment in the workplace for six years before winning a verdict against her employer, was honored with the first Esperanza Award at a ceremony in Wimauma, Fla.
The event, "Sowing Seeds of Tolerance," was co-sponsored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Esperanza: The Immigrant Women's Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
As part of the April 25 event, about 200 farmworkers gathered at the Beth-El Farmworker Ministry to learn about their employment rights.
Tamayo, of LeMoore, Calif., was the first migrant farmworker to prevail in a federal jury trial against her employer for sexual harassment. She first complained to her employer but received no protection. She then sued Harris Farms with the help of the EEOC, and in January 2005 a jury awarded her $1 million. The case is on appeal.
Protecting the rights of immigrant workers is a major concern of the Center, which has filed a number of recent lawsuits, through its Immigrant Justice Project (IJP), to enforce those rights.
Mónica Ramírez, the project director of Esperanza, presented the award. Ramírez honored Tamayo's courageous pursuit of justice and leadership in the movement to end sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.
Center President Richard Cohen, IJP Director Mary Bauer and IJP outreach paralegal Sarah Reynolds also attended the event.
EEOC Commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru, the keynote speaker, commended Tamayo for her bravery and encouraged others who experience any type of discrimination on the job to come forward. "It can change not only one work site and the conditions the employees there face," he said. "It can change workplaces for the next set of women – and for your daughters and children."
Ishimaru discussed the rights of workers faced with workplace discrimination, including gender discrimination and sexual harassment. He also explained the role of the EEOC in enforcing these rights.
Also in attendance was Mily Trevino-Sauceda, founder of Lideres Campesinas, the first farmworker womens' empowerment group in California. She organized more than 500 women in the state around the issues of sexual harassment, domestic violence, workplace safety, health and fair wages. Lideres Campesinas helped connect Tamayo with the EEOC.
When the ceremony was over, participants spilled out onto the Ministry's patio, where an information fair brought together nurses, social workers, counselors, traveling health clinics and advocates from around Florida who work with migrant farm workers and their families.