Here’s a case that reminds us just why the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established in the first place.
Three years after filing suit against farm labor contractor Global Horizons and six farms in Hawaii, the EEOC announced the settlement of its national origin and race discrimination case with four farms — Mac Farms of Hawaii, Kauai Coffee Company, Inc., Kelena Farms, Inc. and Captain Cook Coffee Company, Ltd.
The settlement includes monetary relief, options for jobs and benefits, housing, other reimbursements of expenses, and changes in the farms’ policies and practices. The settlement includes nearly 50 potential job offers.
About 500 Thai victims are involved in the EEOC’s case.
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. The EEOC named the farms in Hawaii as defendants, claiming they were joint employers with the labor contractor, and therefore liable for the acts committed by Global Horizons.
The cases against Global Horizons and Maui Pineapple Company are ongoing. A trial against Global Horizons in Hawaii is set for November 18 to determine the amount of money the company will pay as well as the measures required to prevent future abuses.
‘Treated like animals’
The EEOC charged 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, the agency said. Further, workers were then subjected to varying degrees of the denial or delay of pay, monitoring movements and confiscating passports, unfair production quotas, denial of adequate food and water, and unsanitary, overcrowded living conditions.
Those who complained were retaliated against, with many forced to quit or flee as a result, according to the EEOC.
How bad were the conditions? 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.”
As part of the four consent decrees announced by the agency, 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 — a total od $2.4 million.
In addition, Kelena Farms offered full-time jobs with benefits, profit-sharing and 401(k) plan options, while Captain Cook Coffee offered seasonal jobs, benefits, transportation and housing for workers. The offers extended by Kelena and Captain Cook were valued at nearly $4.9 million.