For quite awhile we have reported about the EEOC’s targets as set forth in its Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP), and noted that “vulnerable worker” abuse and religious discrimination were in the cross-hairs. Two new settlements emphasize this.
The EEOC has reported that it has settled a religious discrimination case for $100,000 filed against an Albuquerque hotel on behalf of a Muslim housekeeper who was fired when she refused to remove her religious head scarf. An EEOC attorney said that “Religious discrimination continues to be a high priority for the EEOC, and we take this issue very seriously.”
We know (see some recent posts of ours).
“Employers should be aware that they have a duty to provide reasonable accommodation to employees’ religious beliefs and practices,” said another EEOC attorney.
In a second case, the EEOC announced that Del Monte will pay $1.2 million to settle a 2011 suit against six farms and a California-based labor contractor who were alleged to have subjected 150 Thai farm workers to uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, low wages and deportation threats.
The EEOC took pains to note that not only was it targeting agricultural employers, but also “labor contractors,” who provide migrant farm labor to these farm employers: “This is sort of a chronic issue that we’ve seen where they try to hide behind labor contractors even though things happen on their land,” said an EEOC lawyer.
In this regard, besides the monetary settlement, the company has agreed to “institute comprehensive protocols and accountability measures to ensure that all farm labor contractors that work with [it] comply with federal laws against discrimination and retaliation. This is the first effort of its kind for a farm to ensure farm labor contractor accountability for federal anti-discrimination laws.”
Moreover, in line with the EEOC’s express intention to protect vulnerable workers, the company has agreed to “partner” with the EEOC “to champion and ensure equal employment rights and opportunities by setting an example for the U.S. farming industry.” Said the EEOC’s GC: “We are hopeful that this resolution will provide a model for the agricultural industry to ensure that farm contractors comply with anti-discrimination laws.”
“We hope this is wake-up call for others in the agricultural industry to follow Del Monte Fresh Produce’s lead in recognizing signs of potential abuses by farm labor contractors and taking proactive steps to hold them accountable.”
Thus sayeth the EEOC.