Four Hawaii Farms to Pay $2.4 Million to Thai Workers to Settle EEOC National Origin and Retaliation Employment Discrimination Lawsuit

Additional Relief in the Form of Job Offers and Other Benefits Will Be Offered to Vulnerable Thai Laborers, Says Federal Agency

LOS ANGELES - Three years after filing suit against farm labor contractor Global Horizons and six farms in Hawaii, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity today announced the settlement of its pattern or practice national origin and race discrimination case with four farms - Mac Farms of Hawaii, LLC [nka MF Nut Co., LLC ("Mac Farms")], Kauai Coffee Company, Inc., [nka McBryde Resources, Inc. ("Kauai Coffee")], Kelena Farms, Inc. and Captain Cook Coffee Company, Ltd. The settlement encompasses monetary relief, options for jobs and benefits, housing, other reimbursements of expenses, and sweeping injunctive relief remedies benefitting about 500 Thai victims in the EEOC's case. This includes nearly 50 potential job offers.

In March 2014, U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi in Hawaii ruled that Beverly Hills-based Global Horizons is liable for the pattern or practice of harassing, discriminating, and retaliating against hundreds of Thai farm workers in the U.S. based on their national origin and race, in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC named the farms in Hawaii as defendants asserting that they were joint employers with the labor contractor, and liable due to the acts committed by Global Horizons. Global Horizons and Maui Pineapple Company remain as the only defendants left in the case.

Phirom Krinsoongnoen, one of the affected Thai farm workers, said, "We worked and lived under terrible conditions, treated like animals in a cage.  We were housed in an overcrowded place with a few rooms but many workers, and threatened almost daily.  I am grateful that the EEOC is here to help people like me."

The EEOC alleged that Thai farm workers were contracted through Global Horizons to work at the farms sometime between 2003 and 2007 under the H2-A temporary visa program which required the farm workers to be provided food and housing aside from pay for work performed. Exorbitant recruitment fees placed the Thai workers into a situation of debt bondage early on. Workers were then subjected to varying degrees of the denial or delay of pay, monitoring movements and confiscating passports, production quotas that non-Thai workers need not adhere to, denial of adequate food and water, and unsanitary, overcrowded living conditions. Those who complained of the pattern or practice of discrimination and harassment were retaliated against, with many forced to quit or flee as a result.

"This resolution reflects the Commission's redoubled effort to challenge discriminatory practices against the most vulnerable workers who often live and work in the shadows of the economy," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "This case strikes a blow at one of the root causes of human trafficking - discrimination based on prohibited bases."

The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As part of the four consent decrees finalized today, Mac Farms will pay $1.6 million, Kauai Coffee will pay $425,000, Kelena Farms will pay $275,000 and Captain Cook Coffee will pay $100,000 directly to the victims. As such, the total direct monetary relief recovered is $2.4 million. In addition, Kelena Farms offered full-time jobs with generous benefits, profit-sharing & 401K plan options, while Captain Cook Coffee offered seasonal jobs, benefits, transportation and housing for workers during the term of their decrees. The offers extended by Kelena and Captain Cook, valued at nearly $4.9 million, add to the direct monetary settlements over the duration of the consent decrees. The EEOC will monitor the terms of the job offers.

Sweeping injunctive relief in all of these consent decrees will ensure that farms and farm labor contractors (FLCs) disseminate policies and procedures prohibiting discrimination to their local work force and to H2-A guest workers in a language they understand; conduct audits to ensure FLC compliance with the consent decree; designate a corporate compliance officer for oversight of FLCs and Title VII compliance; train managers, supervisors, and employees on their obligations under Title VII; and, report to the EEOC and maintain records.

"Today's announcement serves as a reminder to the agricultural industry to remain ever-vigilant in hiring and monitoring farm labor contractors," said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District. "We all have a responsibility to ensure that the most vulnerable workers are not denied basic human dignity and life-sustaining water and food. Farms and farm labor contractors - and the supervisors that represent them - must ensure workers' civil rights remain intact, no matter their race or the country they come from."

The lawsuit in Hawaii was initially filed in April 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., Captain Cook Coffee Co., Ltd., Del Monte Fresh Produce (Hawaii), Inc., Kauai Coffee Company, Inc., Kelena Farms, Inc., Mac Farms of Hawaii, LLC, Maui Pineapple Co., et al, Case No. CV-11-00257-LEK-RLP). Del Monte Farm Fresh already settled for $1.2 million in November 2013.

The trial against Global Horizons in Hawaii is now set for November 18 to determine the amount of money the company will pay as well as the measures required to prevent future abuses. The case against Maui Pineapple Company - the only Hawaii farm left in the case - is ongoing.

Eliminating discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under equal employment laws or reluctant or unable to exercise them is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan. These policies can include disparate pay, job segregation, harassment and human trafficking.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.

 

Topics:  Consent Decrees, Discrimination, EEOC, Employer Liability Issues, Farm Workers, Farms, H-2A, Harassment, Hiring & Firing, National Origin, National Origin Discrimination, Race Discrimination, Retaliation, Settlement, Title VII

Published In: Civil Rights Updates, Labor & Employment Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) | Attorney Advertising

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