Academic journal article Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law

Invisible Survivors: Female Farmworkers in the United States and the Systematic Failure to Report Workplace Harassment and Abuse

Academic journal article Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law

Invisible Survivors: Female Farmworkers in the United States and the Systematic Failure to Report Workplace Harassment and Abuse

Article excerpt

Introduction 128

I. FEMALE FARMWORKRS IN THE UNITED STATES 130

A. STATISTICAL DEMOGRAPHICS 130

B. Intersectional Identity 132

II. SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ABUSE IN THE AGRICULTURAL WORKPLACE 133

III. CHALLENGES 135

A. Knowledge-Based Challenges 135

B. Work-Based Challenges 136

C. Immigration-Based Challenges 137

D. Practical Challenges 138

IV. BETTERING ACCESS TO THE JUSTICE SYSTEM 139

A. Opportunities for Success: Existing Legal Frameworks 139

B. Changes Can Be Implemented To Make Reporting More Accessible 141

1. Increasing Knowledge of Rights and Reporting Procedures 142

2. Reimagining the EEOC Reporting Process 144

3. Bringing Reporting Procedures Directly to Farmworkers... 145

4. Utilizing Existing Non-EEOC Government Inspectors 147

CONCLUSION 149

INTRODUCTION

Angela, a single mother who has worked cutting and packing lettuce for over a decade, first came to the United States seeking a better life.1 However, Angela's life in the United States has been far from easy. She works extremely long hours and suffers excruciating physical pain resulting from the arduous tasks required by her job.2 Additionally, she suffers emotional trauma from the abusive nature of the workplace environment. She has been verbally harassed by her supervisors, who laugh at her, call her offensive names, and single her out for being a single parent.3 On one occasion, Angela was raped by a supervisor when she arrived at his house, at his request, to pick up some boxes.4 The supervisor then threatened Angela on a daily basis, and he openly told her co-workers about the assault; Angela recalls that the supervisor intended such actions to remind Angela that he was the one who wielded control in the workplace.5 Despite such terrible treatment, Angela stomached this behavior, continuing to work for the same employer cutting and packing lettuce, because she wanted to be promoted and earn a higher salary to be able to better support her daughter.6

Angela's narrative is, unfortunately, one that is commonplace among women working in the agricultural industry in the United States. Female farmworkers, who made up about 24% of the agricultural workforce in 2009-2010 and are primarily of Latina origin, are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.7 Often labeled as the "perfect victims," female farmworkers are isolated and thought to lack credibility, generally are unaware of their rights, and often are vulnerable due to their immigration status as either undocumented or H-2A workers.8 However, Angela is unique because she has been willing to share her story in order to help other female farm workers suffering from a similar fate.9 Unlike most female farmworkers, Angela reported her rape to her company and, after no action was taken, spoke with a lawyer who helped her file a sexual harassment claim.10 Yet, Angela is among only a small number of women who ever report the workplace abuse they are forced to endure; in general, only 41% of women in the United States who have experienced sexual harassment have reported this conduct to their employers."

While the plight of female farmworkers has recently been highlighted by a number of scholars, the literature focuses on the substantive failures of existing legal frameworks and enforcement schemes for remedying discrimination and abuse.12 This Note, however, argues that these existing remedies for workplace abuse, most notably Title VII and the U-Visa program, may not be providing survivors with enough opportunities for justice and recovery-not due to substantive deficiencies, but rather to a lack of enforcement resulting from the system's inaccessibility. It notes that female farmworkers, who experience sexual harassment and abuse with greater frequency than other working women in the United States,13 rarely can or do take advantage of these existing legal remedies because they fail to report illegal workplace conduct, making it impossible to ever access justice because of the system's reliance on the private attorney general model. …

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