Teresa Paramo said she experienced sexual harassment and assault as a former field worker in Northern San Luis Obispo County, and she isn't the only one.
According to the Justice on the Horizon Annual 2017 report by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, at least 80 percent of female farmworkers statewide experience sexual harassment, assault, or abuse at work.
This population of workers are vulnerable, the report states, because they work in remote areas, often do not know their rights, and are afraid of the consequences if they speak up.
Paramo filed a complaint for damages on Nov. 15 against her former employers—Martinez Farms, Beato Farms, Vineyard Applications, and former supervisor Sandro Martinez Mauro—for failing to provide a safe work place and failing to provide their workers with training against workplace harassment.
According to the complaint, Paramo began working for Martinez and Beato Farms in January 2012. As a field supervisor, Mauro used his position of authority to repeatedly sexually harass, sexually assault, and sexually batter Paramo in the fields where she labored, the complaint states.
On her last day of work in 2018, Mauro allegedly told Paramo not to return to work and not to mention the sexual harassment and assault or she and her family would be killed, the complaint states. Paramo believed his threats, the complaint states, and she did not return to work.
After her termination, the complaint states, Mauro continued to harass her. In April 2018, Paramo filed and dismissed a civil restraining order against her former supervisor, the complaint states.
The complaint alleges that Mauro went to her new place of work—the El Pollo Loco in Paso Robles where Paramo was a cashier—twice. She filed a second temporary restraining order against Mauro—which was dismissed, the complaint states.
Mauro then filed a small claims court action against Paramo, the complaint states, for defamation.
In the November complaint, Paramo claims that her employers did not provide proper training or reasonably supervised worksites. This, the complaint alleges, allowed for a toxic workplace where female employees, including Paramo, were forced to choose between not getting a paycheck or getting sexually assaulted.
Mia Murrietta, director of communications for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLA), said the foundation's statewide offices see an average of one to two cases per month of farmworkers reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.
Many of the same interpersonal and power dynamics that underlie sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in any workplace hold true for farmworkers, Murrietta said.
Aside from the remote workplace, a fear of speaking up, and not knowing their rights, she said their immigration status or threats to separate them from their children may be used to manipulate them into keeping quiet.
Language is another barrier for female farmworkers.
"Many primarily speak their indigenous language and little or no Spanish or English, which makes it even more difficult to come forward and seek assistance, much less learn about their rights," she said.
CRLA also regularly assists male farmworkers with sexual harassment complaints. In August, the CRLA's Salinas office won a $600,000 settlement for a 17-year-old male packing shed worker who filed a complaint against his employer for sexual assault by a supervisor.
In 2014, Sen. Bill Monning's (D-Carmel) Senate Bill 1087, which attempted to combat sexual harassment in the fields, passed. The legislation amended the Farm Labor Contractor Act to mandate sexual harassment training for licensees and their supervisors. It also requires all non-supervisorial employees to be trained on how to identify, prevent, document, and report sexual harassment in the workplace.
Monning told New Times that he updated the legislation in 2017 with Senate Bill 295, which requires mandatory training of all employees by a licensed farm labor contractor in a language understood by the worker. Confirmation of the training must be provided annually to the state labor commissioner.
CRLA distributes brochures statewide and in the community to build awareness of the issue and also provides in-person information sessions to farmworkers and other organizations that serve farmworkers.
Murrietta said even after an individual is brave enough to get legal counsel about their rights and what to do next, some individuals still don't officially report sexual harassment, assault, or abuse to their employers.
Mindy Allen, co-owner and operator of Martinez Farms, said Paramo never notified the company of the alleged assault and harassment.
"I am a woman in business; I would protect any employee, female or male, from any problems out in the field," Allen said. "If we know about it, we will address it."
She said Mauro was no longer employed by Martinez Farms while he was allegedly harassing Paramo at El Pollo Loco. Δ
Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at [email protected].