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EEOC Action on Behalf of Seasonal Farm Worker Ok for Trial

Eulalia Salazar Santiago worked in the fields as a “seasonal worker” for Favorite Farms. She and her two children received and lived in company housing. She reported to crew leader, Hector Cruz, who also assigned her housing. It was alleged that on November 13, 2015, Mr. Cruz entered her apartment, claiming that he needed to inspect it, and raped her. Ms. Santiago reported the rape to Favorite Farms’ management who purportedly failed to investigate it or discipline Mr. Cruz. Shortly after her complaint, Ms. Santiago was suspended without pay.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against Favorite Farms with Ms. Santiago joining the action. Favorite Farms moved for summary judgment to dismiss all claims. The Florida district court found that “it was so clear that a finder of fact must resolve these claims” that it only briefly addressed the arguments before overruling it.
One of the company’s primary arguments was that it could not be held liable for the acts of Mr. Cruz, relying on the Faragher/Ellerth affirmative defense where an employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct harassing behavior and an employee failed to take advantage of the employer’s preventative opportunities. In this case, it was unclear that Ms. Santiago ever saw the anti-harassment policy and there were allegations that Mr. Cruz had a previous complaint of harassment against him without an adequate investigation. More to the point, Ms. Santiago reported the harassment immediately and there was little evidence that the company took any action in response. While generally, a sexual assault falls outside the supervisor’s scope of employment, it was a question for the jury whether Mr. Cruz was able to commit his act because of the employer/employee relationship i.e., his authority to enter the premises.