Federal Judge Holds Global Horizons, Farm Labor Contractor, Liable for Discriminating, Harassing and Retaliating Against Thai Workers

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A federal judge has held that Global Horizons, Inc., a Beverly Hills-based farm labor contractor, is liable for the pattern or practice of harassing, discriminating, and retaliating against hundreds of Thai workers in the U.S., in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.  U.S. District Court Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi cited examples of physical abuse, exploitation, and barbaric security measures at Maui Pineapple Company's historic pineapple plantations and old worker dormitories where the Thai workers were forced to live and other abuses throughout Hawaii.

In the order, Judge Kobayashi stated "that Global Horizons 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." Judge Kobayashi's order also states that discriminatory "disparate treatment of Thai workers was Global Horizons' standard operating procedure."

The EEOC initially filed this suit against Global Horizons and six farms in Hawaii in April 2011 alleging a pattern and practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment and retaliation against Thai farm workers who were brought into the U.S. to work under the H2-A visa program.  High recruitment fees 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.  

Judge Kobayashi 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 said.  

With Judge Kobayashi's order in favor of the EEOC, the trial is now set for Nov. 18 to determine the amount of money that Global Horizons will pay for the abuses suffered by the Thai workers, as well as the measures that Global will need to implement to prevent future abuses.  

With respect to the farms, Del Monte Fresh Produce settled its lawsuit in November 2013 for $1.2 million along with extensive training and policy changes intended to safeguard the civil rights of farm workers.  Four additional farms in Hawaii (Captain Cook Coffee Company, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms and MacFarms of Hawaii) have reached settlements in principle and are finalizing their settlements with the EEOC.  The case against Maui Pineapple Company is ongoing.

The EEOC's companion case in Washington state against Global Horizons and two farms there is ongoing and set for trial on Sept. 15.  

All this alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., et al., Case No. CV-11-00257-LEK-RLP) and U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. d/b/a Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., et al, Case No. 2:11-cv-03045-EFS).  

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.

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