Hawaii Farms Settle Thai Workers Discrimination Suit for $2.4M
Khamjuan Namwichai, center, greets reporters at a news conference in Honolulu on Tuesday, June 3, 2013. Namwichai spoke in Thai to describe unsanitary conditions working at Hawaii farms, as Mimi Cheou, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator, left, translates. Also pictured are Anna Park, EEOC Los Angeles regional attorney, second from left, and Thai worker Likhit Yoo-on.Jennifer Sinco Kelleher / AP
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HONOLULU — Four Hawaii farms are settling a discrimination lawsuit for a total of $2.4 million over allegations that they exploited hundreds of Thai workers.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a federal lawsuit in 2011 against California-based labor contractor Global Horizons and six Hawaii farms, with allegations including subjecting workers to discrimination, uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, inadequate wages and deportation threats.
Mac Farms of Hawaii will pay $1.6 million, Kelena Farms will pay $275,000, Captain Cook Coffee Co. will pay $100,000, and Kauai Coffee Co. will pay $425,000, according to settlement agreements made public Tuesday.
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A judge recently found Global Horizons liable for the discrimination and abuse of the workers.
Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc. settled for $1.2 million, the EEOC announced last year. Global Horizons and Maui Pineapple Co., the last farm that hasn't settled, are scheduled to go to trial in November, said Anna Park, EEOC Los Angeles regional attorney, who traveled to Honolulu to announce the settlement details.
All of the $3.6 million in settlement funds will go directly to the workers, Park said, in a distribution process that involves determining who worked on the various farms, for how long and the severity of the abuse workers suffered.
Likhit Yoo-on and Khamjuan Namwichai told reporters through a translator Tuesday about how they were recruited in Thailand to do agricultural work in the United States with promises of earning enough money to support their families.
Their passports were taken away. Yoo-on said he had to sleep on the floor and was forced to harvest bananas even when sick. Namwichai said he lived in a bug-infested house where 26 workers shared one bathroom.
The contractor sought impoverished Thai nationals, who they stereotyped to be docile and compliant, Park said, and charged them fees ranging from $9,500 to $26,000.
Mordechai Orian, president and chief strategic officer of now-defunct Global Horizons, said by phone Tuesday that he doesn't believe any of the allegations.
"We're filing motions and everything to dismiss the case," he said. "It's a baseless case."
Attorneys for the farms couldn't immediately be reached for comment.