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Del Monte Settles Bias Lawsuit Involving Thai Farmworkers for $1.2 Million

By Joanne Deschenaux  11/20/2013
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Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc. agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit claiming that Thai workers on Hawaii farms were subjected to uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, low wages and deportation threats, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced Nov. 18, 2013.

Del Monte acknowledged no wrongdoing under the settlement, according to the consent decree, filed in U.S. District Court in Hawaii.

The EEOC originally filed suit in April 2011, charging that Global Horizons, a labor contractor responsible for recruiting the Thai workers, and several farm defendants, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating based on national origin and race and engaging in harassment and retaliation in their treatment of farmworkers recruited from Thailand from 2003 through 2006.

The six Hawaii farms named in the suit were Del Monte Fresh Produce’s Hawaii subsidiary, Captain Cook Coffee Co., Kauai Coffee Co., Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii, and Maui Pineapple Farms.

Del Monte contracted with Global for approximately three years ending in 2005 to tend pineapple fields the company leased on the island of Oahu. For its service obligations to Del Monte, Global hired, trained and supervised farm laborers. The EEOC charged that workers brought in from Thailand and placed at the various farms were mistreated and discriminated against by Global on Del Monte’s farm.

“We commend Del Monte Fresh Produce for taking a bold step to holding farm-labor contractors accountable and to show its commitment to ensuring farmworkers are treated with dignity and protected under federal anti-discrimination laws,” said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which includes Hawaii in its jurisdiction. “We hope this is a wake-up call for others in the agricultural industry to follow Del Monte Fresh Produce’s lead in recognizing signs of potential abuses by farm-labor contractors and taking proactive steps to hold them accountable.” 

Four of the other five farms named in the complaint have also agreed to settle the charges. However, Maui Pineapple Farms, along with the labor contractor Global, has not agreed to settle and will proceed to trial, now set for Feb. 11, 2014, Park said.

Company Agrees to Monitor Farm Contractors

In addition to paying damages, Del Monte has agreed to institute accountability measures to ensure that all farm-labor contractors that work with the company comply with federal laws against discrimination and retaliation. According to the EEOC, this is the first time a farm has agreed to ensure farm-labor contractor accountability for compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws.

Among other things, Del Monte Fresh Produce has agreed to:

*Establish procedures to ensure that farm-labor contractors (FLCs) disseminate policies and procedures prohibiting discrimination to their local workforce and to H2-A guest workers in a language they understand.

*Establish mechanisms for FLCs to provide notices to workers about their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

*Disseminate notices to all workers, including FLC and Del Monte employees, on methods for submitting discrimination complaints.

*Conduct audits to ensure that FLCs comply with the consent decree throughout its term.

*Designate a compliance officer to oversee FLC compliance and Title VII compliance, as required under the consent decree.

*Train managers, supervisors and employees on their obligations under Title VII.

*Report to the EEOC and keep records.

Del Monte no longer operates in Hawaii, where it ran a pineapple plantation until 2006.

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is SHRM’s senior legal editor.

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