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U.S. EEOC et al. v. Gargiulo, Inc.

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Gargiulo, Inc., one of Florida's largest fruit and vegetable wholesalers has agreed to pay $215,000 to settle allegations of sexual harassment in one of the few such lawsuits ever brought on behalf of farmworker women in the United States.

The lawsuit, initiated by Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Mónica Ramírez Guerrero, alleged five Haitian women working at Gargiulo Inc.'s tomato packinghouse in Immokalee were subjected to repeated, unwelcome sexual advances by their supervisor and then faced retaliation after they complained. The retaliation included the firing of three of the women.

The consent decree, the result of lawsuits brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida Legal Services and the Fort Myers law firm Webb, Scarmozzino & Gunter, was signed on Monday by U.S. District Judge John E. Steele in Fort Myers.

The EEOC has identified several other, unnamed women who were also harassed, and they will each receive a share of the settlement.

The lawsuit alleged that from the fall of 2003 until the spring of 2004, the women endured repeated requests for sex, offensive sexual remarks and physical contact with their bodies. The women, who worked as tomato graders, said they rejected the supervisor's advances and suffered retaliation as a result. They were suspended without pay, subjected to adverse working conditions and either fired or not rehired for a new packing season. Despite complaints to Gargiulo officials, the company took no action on the women's behalf.

The case was filed in September 2005 by the EEOC, alleging violation of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in the workplace. Several months later, the Center intervened in the action on behalf of the women, adding a claim of sexual harassment and retaliation under the Florida Civil Rights Act.