- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2005

LEMOORE, Calif. — It took Olivia Tamayo six years to accuse her supervisor of rape, but when she finished telling her story in court, it took a jury less than six hours to award the farmworker $1 million in damages.

A federal court jury in January found that Harris Farms, one of California’s largest farming operations, had not acted promptly to stop the harassment once it was reported, and that it retaliated against Mrs. Tamayo, forcing her to quit.

“When I tried to say something about it, the company didn’t believe me, didn’t do anything to protect me,” Mrs. Tamayo said recently.

Company President John Harris said an internal investigation led him to think that Mrs. Tamayo’s case was an affair gone bad, not rape, and that he plans to appeal the verdict.

No criminal charges were ever brought in the case.

Attorneys with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which brought the case, said Mrs. Tamayo’s case underscores the fact that sexual harassment and abuse in the fields often goes unnoticed. Most farmworkers are illegal aliens and have little knowledge of English or their legal rights, they said.

William Tamayo, a lawyer with the EEOC who is not related to Olivia Tamayo, said last week that the agency has argued 10 cases since 1999, including Mrs. Tamayo’s, to send the message that it will prosecute cases involving even the most vulnerable farmworkers in California.

All of the San Francisco EEOC’s recent cases involving farmworker sexual harassment have led to settlements, except Mrs. Tamayo’s, officials said. The first case, against Tanimura & Antle, the nation’s largest lettuce grower, led to a nearly $2 million award.

Mrs. Tamayo was 15 years old with a third-grade education when she left rural Mexico for California as a pregnant newlywed. Over the years, she raised five children and worked in the fields, planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables.

Mrs. Tamayo said she was raped for the first time by her supervisor in 1993 in one of Harris Farms’ almond groves. She said she did not know what to do or where to go and could not bring herself to tell her husband.



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