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Bryant Whitten, LLP

$1.2 million awarded to farm workers in discrimination lawsuit

Due to mistreatment, Del Monte Fresh Produce has agreed to a $1.2 million settlement in a discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of pineapple farm workers from Thailand. The suit, filed by a California office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claimed Global Horizons Manpower Inc., a Del Monte contractor, exploited the immigrant workers by making them pay huge fees to obtain employment in the United States and then mistreating them after they become employed. The EEOC further alleged Del Monte should have known that its contractor was engaged in workplace discrimination.

The alleged mistreatment of the farm workers included wage violations and placing the workers in housing without access to food or kitchen facilities, and they also withheld their identification papers thus making it difficult to leave. Workers who complained received threats of arrest and deportation. The alleged conduct occurred during a period from 2003 to 2006 at Del Monte pineapple farms in Hawaii.

In addition to the award of damages to the workers, the settlement requires Del Monte to promote the equitable treatment of farm workers throughout the country. Going forward, the company will instruct its labor contractors to follow all United States labor and employment laws and to advise foreign workers of their rights.

Federal and state employment laws provide multiple protections against the mistreatment of immigrant farm workers. First, workplace discrimination laws such as those enforced by the EEOC prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or other protected class status. Under these laws, an employer cannot treat employees or applicants for employment differently than other workers because they are from a foreign country. Additionally, wage and hour laws require employers to pay workers minimum wage for each hour worked and overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week. An employment law attorney may assist a worker seeking compensation for violations of these laws.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Del Monte to pay $1.2 million to settle worker-discrimination lawsuit", Stuart Pfeifer, November 18, 2013

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