Texas Agricultural Company Settles Sexual Discrimination Complaint

Dec. 12, 2018

Nancy Nusser, Press Officer, TRLA, 512-374-2764 or 410 934 9588; nnusser@trla.org

Pioneer Gin Inc., a Seminole, Texas cotton business, agreed to pay $24,000 in damages and back pay to settle a Title VII Civil Rights complaint filed by a New Mexico woman who was sexually harassed while working for the company. The woman, Maria Caballero, a resident of Lea County in New Mexico, was represented by New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA).

Caballero was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment – including unwelcome sexual comments, physical contact, and threatening conduct by her supervisor. Even after she reported the harassment to management, she was still required to work under the same supervisor. Further, Pioneer Gin never discussed a sexual harassment policy with her or held training on sexual harassment. Nor did the company provide written materials instructing employees what to do in the event of harassment.

Caballero left the company in February 2017 when her seasonal position ended. “I could not apply for work at Pioneer Gin after that experience because I was scared of putting myself in a work environment where I would be abused, harassed and feel unsafe,” she said.

“I think that what happened to me is common but women are too afraid to report it. They’re worried about losing their jobs, because they have to support their families. So the abuse just goes on and on. I hope that my case helps to stop this from happening to other women.”

The U.S. Equal Economic Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found reasonable cause to believe that Caballero was discriminated against on the basis of her sex. Under the November 14 conciliation agreement entered into by Pioneer Gin and Caballero and approved by the EEOC, Pioneer Gin will pay Caballero $21,000 in damages and $3,000 in back pay. The company is required to conduct sexual harassment trainings and create a sexual harassment policy. In addition, the company must report any future complaints of discrimination to the EEOC.

“Sexual harassment and abuse are widespread in the agricultural industry, and cases like this one, which penalize the companies and vindicate the rights of workers, are instrumental to change,” said NMLA attorney Molly Graver. “Ultimately it is the companies’ responsibility to change the culture so that women can work safely and without fear.”

Widespread sexual harassment of low-wage agricultural workers has received increased exposure in recent years. A 2012 Human Rights Watch investigation reported that nearly every female agricultural worker who was interviewed reported having been sexually harassed. A 2010 academic study of agricultural workers in California’s Central Valley reported that some 80 percent of women had been sexually harassed. A subsequent year-long investigation by Frontline/Univision titled Rape in the Fields, confirmed the ubiquity of serious sexual harassment and abuse in both packing plants and fields within the agricultural industry.

“Hopefully, the settlement will have a chilling effect on sexual harassment not only at Pioneer Gin but at other companies within the agricultural industry in the region,” said TRLA’s Christopher Benoit, attorney for Caballero. “From the start, that has been important to Maria.”

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to about 23,000 low-income Texans in 68 counties. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and access to justice for low-income Texans by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.



nancy nusser