Civil rights suits against temporary worker visa violators

H-2A and H-2B (temporary agricultural worker) visa programs have been riddled with abuses by employers against workers who may pay thousands of dollars for the right to work in the United States. A tangled litany of law suits an federal disciplinary actions is found here. I have previously posted on the agricultural firm Global Horizons. Now, the firm has been hit from a new corner with charges of illegal trafficking.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits national origin and race discrimination and retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Global Horizons for civil rights violations. The EEOC has sued Signal International for similar violations. Below are excerpts from EEOC press releases:
EEOC Files Its Largest Farm Worker Human Trafficking Suit Against Global Horizons, Farms
Federal Agency Says Labor Contractor and Eight Farms Discriminated Against Hundreds of Thai Farm Workers Trafficked into Hawaii, Washington
LOS ANGELES – In its largest human trafficking case in agriculture to date, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced that it filed lawsuits in Hawaii and Washington against Global Horizons Inc., a Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, and eight farms. The EEOC contends that Global Horizons engaged in a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, when it trafficked over 200 Thai male victims to farms in Hawaii and Washington where they were subjected to severe abuse. Hundreds of additional potential claimants and witnesses are expected, according to the EEOC.
The EEOC asserts that between 2003 and 2007, Global Horizons enticed Thai male nationals into working at the farms with the false promises of steady, high-paying agricultural jobs along with temporary visas allowing them to live and work in the U.S. legally. The opportunity came at a price: high recruitment fees creating an insurmountable debt for the Thai workers. When they reached the U.S., Global Horizons confiscated the workers’ passports and threatened deportation if they complained, which set the tone for the abuses to come.
The Thai workers were assigned to work at six farms in Hawaii (Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms) and two farms in Washington (Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards), harvesting a variety of items from pineapples to coffee beans. The EEOC asserts that the farms not only ignored abuses, but also participated in the obvious mistreatment, intimidation, harassment, and unequal pay of the Thai workers..
The EEOC filed its lawsuit 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 Company, Ltd. et al. Case No. CV-11-00257-DAE-RLP) and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., Green Acre Farms, Inc. et al, Case No. 2:11-cv-03045-EFS), after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement. The EEOC’s suit argues that the alleged conduct constitutes retaliation, national origin and race discrimination which violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the victims, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent further abuses at the companies and farms.
PRESS RELEASE
4-20-11
EEOC Sues Marine Services Company for Labor Trafficking, Discrimination
Signal International Harassed and Mistreated Workers Recruited From India, Federal Agency Charged
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit today against Signal International, LLC, charging that the Gulf of Mexico marine services company violated federal law by subjecting a class of approximately 500 Indian employees to human labor trafficking and a hostile work environment.
The EEOC charged in its lawsuit that Signal subjected the Indian employees as a class to abuse based on national origin (Indian) and/or race (Asian). The agency charged Signal with disparate, discriminatory treatment concerning the workers’ terms and conditions of employment, as well as segregating them. Finally, the EEOC lawsuit alleges Signal retaliated against Sabulal Vijayan and Joseph Jacob Kadakkarappally because they opposed Signal’s unlawful conduct.


Signal required the Indian employees to live in modular trailers called “man camps,” enclosed by fences, built by Signal for the Indian employees. Signal charged the Indian employees more than $30 daily for housing and food. The EEOC said that the living facilities, food and overall living conditions were intolerable, demeaning and unsanitary. The agency’s complaint also said that Signal assigned numbers to each Indian employee and used these numbers as a form of identification and reference rather than using the employee’s name.
Signal had recruited the employees to work as welders, pipefitters, and ship fitters in Mississippi and Texas. Signal had recruited, tested and offered employment to each employee pursuant to the federal government’s H-2B guest worker program.
On Jan. 19, 2011, the EEOC held public hearings on government-wide efforts to combat human trafficking and forced labor. The EEOC announced today that this case and others are being brought to combat discriminatory practices regarding foreign laborers.
According to company information, Signal is a leading Gulf of Mexico provider of marine and fabrication services, including new construction, heavy fabrication and offshore drilling rig and ship overhaul, repair, upgrade and conversion. The company employs more than 1,500 people. Signal’s corporate offices are in Mobile, Ala., with production facilities in Pascagoula, Miss., and Orange, Texas.

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