October 23, 2014 / Week N° 43

U.S.: Hawaii farms pay huge settlement in race lawsuit

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June 4th, 2014

Four Hawaii farms will pay US$2.4 million to Thai workers to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) race discrimination lawsuit. 600px-US-EEOC-Seal.svg

The charges were originally filed three years ago against California-based labor contractor Global Horizons and six farms in Hawaii. The EEOC yesterday announced the settlement of the case against four farms – Mac Farms, Kauai Coffee, Kelena Farms, and Captain Cook Coffee.

The settlement includes monetary payments, job offers with housing, and reimbursement of expenses which will benefit around 500 Thai victims related to the case.

The US$2.4 million settlement will be paid to the EEOC, which will then distribute it to the workers. Mac Farms will pay US$1.6 million, Kauai Coffee US$425,000, Kelena Farms $275,000, and Captain Cook Coffee will pay the remaining US$100,000.

The EEOC alleged the Thai farm workers were contracted through Global Horizons to work at the farms sometime between 2003 and 2007 under the H2-A temporary visa waiver program, which required the farm workers to be provided with food and housing along with their normal wages.

They then allegedly paid unjustifiably high recruitment fees, were subject to varying degrees of denial of pay, confiscation of passports, denied adequate food or water, and forced to live in vastly overcrowded conditions.

At the settlement hearing, one of the affected Thai farm workers Phirom Krinsoongnoen spoke of the suffering he went through and praised the EEOC’s work in seeking justice.

“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,” he said.

EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said yesterday’s settlement is demonstrative of the organization’s continuous determination to end employment discrimination practices.

“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. This case strikes a blow at one of the root causes of human trafficking – discrimination based on prohibited bases,” he said.

In March 2014, U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi in Hawaii ruled Global Horizons was liable for the pattern of discrimination and harassment against the workers. Global Horizons and one more farm, the Maui Pineapple Company, are now the only remaining defendants in the case.

Del Monte Farm Fresh was the other farm on the original charges, but the company settled for US$1.2 million in November, 2013.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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