A federal judge has awarded over $7 million dollars in a suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity commission against farm labor contractor, Global Horizons. The suit claimed that the contractor subjected Thai farmworkers in the state of Washington to a hostile work environment, harassment and discrimination, alleging a pattern or practice of national origin and race discrimination, harassment, constructive discharge and retaliation. The district court awarded compensatory and punitive damages, including $2,500 to each Thai farmworker who was detained by the police because Global Horizons confiscated his or her passport. District Court Judge Edward Shea called Global Horizon’s practices “reprehensible” and caused the Thai workers to suffer from “fear, anxiety, anger, intimidation, humiliation, shame and … an unrelenting sense of imprisonment.”
According to the EEOC, “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.”
At some farms, Thai workers were forced to live in abysmal conditions, dilapidated houses infested with rats and insects. The workers endured threats and physical assaults. Their passports were often confiscated and the workers were bound by the debts they owed to the employer, essentially subjecting them to imprisonment.
“Human trafficking is one of the most insidious forms of discrimination,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office. “The EEOC is committed to holding employers accountable for benefiting from the modern day enslavement of workers from other countries.”
Rosa M. Viramontes, district director for EEOC's Los Angeles District, added, "Unchecked discrimination, harassment and retaliation can lead to severe workplace abuses that violate federal law. The court's decision sends a strong signal to the agricultural industry that our workers' basic civil and human rights must be protected."