FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK - In a resounding affirmation of immigrant women's right to work without fear of sexual assault and harassment, the American Civil Liberties Union today announced a settlement in a case involving three Latina women harassed by their employer in a Manhattan retail store.
"Our clients, three immigrant women, were vindicated for the severe abuse they endured at the hands of a ruthless employer," said Claudia Flores, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "This settlement ensures that they will finally be compensated for the sexual harassment they suffered and the exploitative wages they were paid."
In September 2006, a jury found Albert Palacci, the owner of Ramco and National Discount stores on Dyckman Street in upper Manhattan, liable for sexual assault and harassment. However, Palacci refused to pay the women what the jury granted them as compensation. After almost a year of negotiations and court proceedings, a settlement was reached this week. The parties agreed to resolve all outstanding matters in the case for immediate payment of $750,000 in damages and attorneys' fees.
The three women, Deyanira Espinal, 39, Angela Berise Fritman Peralta, 24, and Maria Araceli Gonzales Flores, 24, worked as cashiers and general assistants at Ramco for periods of time from 2002 to 2004. During their employment, they were subjected to severe sexual harassment including demands for sex in exchange for raises. 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.
On one occasion, Palacci took Peralta and Espinal to an abandoned apartment, ostensibly to clean it. He then locked the door, stripped and demanded sexual favors. The women refused. In retaliation, Palacci reduced their work hours and treated 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.
"We hope this settlement will give courage to other immigrant women who are in similar oppressive and illegal work situations," said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "Too often, out of economic necessity, immigrant women find themselves in exploitative work situations but are afraid to come forward. Regardless of where one is from, everyone has the right to work in a safe and fair environment."
The case is Espinal v. Ramco General Stores. The lawyers on the case were Lapidus, Flores, Namita Luthra, and Sara Lesch from the ACLU Women's Rights Project.