“The most vulnerable workers” — this is a part of the EEOC’s strategic plan for enforcement. Protecting them, that is, as we noted before — think farm workers, migrant workers, workers in isolated areas, and mentally-challenged Henry’s Turkey workers. (It also appears to be on the radar elswehere, as our similar recent blog about 55 African tree planters having just settled a similar case in British Columbia indicates).
In this regard, the EEOC has just announced a settlement with a group of Hawaiian farms for allegedly harassing and mistreating Thai farmworkers who had been “retained” by a labor contractor.
EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP)
On November 20, 2013 we posted that ”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.”
On October 8, 2013 we wrote:
“Last year we discussed a number of cases brought by the EEOC against employers relating to harassment of farmworkers — the most vulnerable workers, according to the EEOC’s strategic enforcement plan. We quoted the EEOC general counsel in relation to the settlement of an ‘appalling’ sexual harassment suit: ‘It is one of the EEOC’s national priorities to combat discrimination against vulnerable workers, and we hope that this settlement sends a message to other employers that they need to be vigilant to prevent sexual harassment and other abuse.’”
Lawsuit/Judgment For Thai Workers In Hawaii
The EEOC filed suit in April 2011 against a labor contractor and a number of Hawaiian farms, as alleged joint employers, alleging harassment of Thai workers such as physical assaults, humiliation, and allegedly threatening to shoot, deport or imprison them. The EEOC said that Thai farm workers who were brought into the U.S. to work under the H2-A visa program were subject to “high recruitment fees [which] created a great debt for the Thai workers who faced abuses on the farms such as slapping, punching, humiliation, heavy surveillance and threats of being shot, deported or arrested.”
A federal judge in March found the farm labor contractor liable for a pattern and practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment and retaliation against the farm workers. The Court held that the labor contractor “subjected the Claimants to physical and verbal harassment based on Claimants’ race and/or national origin in order to secure the Claimants’ compliance and obedience and based upon stereotypical beliefs about Thai workers. … [discriminatory] disparate treatment of Thai workers was [the labor contractor’s] standard operating procedure.”
The Court also found that “the Thai workers were often paid less, made to work less desirable and more demeaning jobs and denied breaks, yet worked longer hours than non-Thai farm workers. Food, housing and living conditions were also deplorable for the Thai workers.”
The EEOC commented then that “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 (SEP). These policies can include disparate pay, job segregation, harassment and human trafficking (emphasis added) .”
A trial on the measure of damages assessed and the injunctive relief to be imposed was set for this coming November.
Settlement Just Announced With Hawaiian Farms
This week the EEOC announced that it had settled the case with four of the Hawaiian farms for an aggregate of $2.4 million. The EEOC General Counsel said that “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 (emphasis added).”
Now all that’s left is the November trial on damages against the farm labor contractor.