South Georgia farm settles EEOC case with U.S. farmworkers
3:52 pm, December 13th, 2012
A south Georgia farm has settled a case with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by agreeing to pay $500,000 to seasonal farmworkers, many of them African-American, who, according to the EEOC, had been subjected to discrimination based on their race and because they were U.S. citizens.
The EEOC announced the settlement of the 2011 lawsuit today with Hamilton Growers Inc., which was doing business in Colquitt County as Southern Valley Fruit and Vegetable Inc., according to the EEOC. Georgia Legal Services joined with EEOC lawyers to represented the plaintiff workers.
“This case brings to the forefront an issue that is increasingly affecting members of agricultural communities throughout the nation,” said Bernice William Kimbrough, the EEOC’s district director in Atlanta. “We will continue to focus our efforts to eradicate all forms of discrimination against the American work force.”
Said legal services lawyer Leah Lotto: “Discrimination against American workers in the H-2A guest worker program is endemic. We hope this case will bring attention to that problem and that we will see Hamilton Growers demonstrate to its neighbors that offering job opportunities to American workers is not only legally required, but also the right thing to do for communities and local economies.”
Passed in 1986, the H-2A agricultural guest worker program allows U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals as seasonal agricultural workers but only after establishing that there are not a sufficient number of U.S. workers who are able, willing, and qualified and who will be available at the time and place needed to perform the required labor or services.
In order to hire foreign citizens as guest workers, U.S. employers must undertake “positive recruitment efforts” to hire U.S. workers through labor and farmworker organizations and also advertise the jobs in general circulation newspapers or on the radio.
The EEOC suit alleged that the farm had discriminated against farm workers who were U.S. citizens by firing “virtually all” of them while continuing to employ Mexican workers during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 growing seasons. The EEOC claimed that 16 African-American workers were subjected to “race-based comments by a management official” when they were fired in 2009.
The suit also claimed that the farm also provided fewer earning opportunities to U.S. workers by assigning them to pick vegetables in fields that had already been picked by foreign workers, resulting in lower pay than their Mexican counterparts.
The suit also claimed that U.S. workers – unlike foreign workers — were subjected to delayed starting times and early stop times, which also reduced their pay.
As part of the settlement, Hamilton Growers will make a “good faith” effort to hire and retain qualified U.S. citizens and African-American workers for all of their available farmwork positions, including supervisory slots, the EEOC said. The farm will also implement non-discriminatory hiring measures to include targeted recruitment and advertising, the appointment of a compliance officer and management training, the EEOC said.
The company also pledged to create a job termination appeal process, extend job offers to rehire workers who were fired during the 2009-2012 seasons, provide transportation for U.S. workers and limit contact between U.S. workers and management officials who allegedly discriminated against them, the EEOC said.
Robert Dawkins, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Atlanta, said, “The EEOC is pleased to have effectuated positive change in the employment practices of agricultural employers who regularly hire foreign workers under the H-2A visa program for temporary or seasonal work. Federal law protects U.S. workers against an employer’s discriminatory preferences, and we are optimistic that this resolution will go a long way in discouraging employers drom discriminating against workers based on race and national origin in the hiring and firing process.”