By Claudia Flores
The Dream Team of ACLU lawyers, who fight for the rights of women as part of the Women’s Rights Project, were responsible for winning a recent settlement on behalf of several immigrant women who were sexually harassed by their employer. (L-R) Lenora Lapidus, director of the Women’s Rights Project, Sara Lesch, Guest Voz writer Claudia Flores and Namita Luthra.
Three years ago, three immigrant Latina women came to the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
They asked for help in sending a message to their employer, and all employers, that sexual harassment would not be tolerated — even among those who are perceived as having no voice in this country.
Too often, out of economic necessity, immigrant women find themselves in exploitative work situations but are too afraid to come forward.
The courage of the women in this case is remarkable.
Angela Berise Peralta, 24, Deyanira Espinal, 39, and Maria Araceli Gonzales Flores, 24, not only demanded justice for what their employer did to them, but they won.
In fact, they won to the tune of $455,000. Are abusive employers listening now?
Mr. Albert Palacci, owner of Ramco and National Discount stores on Dyckman Street in upper Manhattan, and the women’s employer, tormented and humiliated them on a daily basis.
He asked them to touch his genitals, he groped their breasts and buttocks, and told them they would get raises if they had sex with him.
When these demands were rejected, Palacci retaliated by physically assaulting the women. Each woman was forced to work six or seven days a week for as little as $30-$40 a day; one was also forced to work as Palacci’s personal cook and maid.
If this wasn’t horrible enough, he tricked two of them into accompanying him to an abandoned house, stripped off his clothes and tried to force them to have sex with him.
When they refused, he retaliated by reducing their work hours and treating them with increased hostility. Palacci also kept a bed in the basement of one of his stores and told the women it was there so that he could have sex with them.
It is amazing and disturbing that women in this country continue to experience sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace.
Even though the laws are clear — women are entitled to a discrimination-free workplace — employers continue to take advantage of vulnerable women, comfortable in the knowledge that they will rarely ever be held accountable.
We hope this settlement gives courage to other immigrant women who are in similar oppressive and work situations.
The message of this case is clear: regardless of one’s origin or gender, everyone has the right to work in a safe and fair environment.