Thai workers will receive compensation in EEOC lawsuit.
The Justice and Treasury departments of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have received $4.8 million, which is slightly more than half of a $8.1 million court judgement awarded six years ago to more than 50 Thai farm workers who were abused while working on a Maui pineapple plantation. Global Horizons, a labor contractor, and six Hawaii farms were sued.
The EEOC initially filed a Title VII lawsuit in 2011 in U.S District Court in the District of Hawaii against Maui Pineapple, Ltd., Global Horizons, Inc., and other defendants (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc., et al., Case No. 1:11-cv-00257-LEK-RLP). In 2015, the district court entered a default judgment against Maui Pineapple and Global Horizons.
Five farms settled for a total of $3.6 million, and in 2015 a U.S. court in Honolulu, Hawaii, found Maui Pineapple Co. (which has since changed its name to Maui Land and Pineapple Co), the remaining farm that didn’t settle, was jointly liable with Global Horizons for $8.1 million. The lawsuit alleged “workers were subjected to discrimination, uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, inadequate wages and deportation threats.”
The federal agency will distribute the money to the workers. Anna Park, the commission’s regional attorney, said, “The agencies will continue to collect funds owed the workers until the full judgment is satisfied.” She added, “This is not the end. This is the beginning. This was just a nice big chunk that came and gave some relief to the claimants. They’ve been waiting a long time.”
Mordechai Orian, former president of Global Horizon, reported that the company shut down in 2007, and called the court’s judgment “absurd” and “crazy.” Orian said, “They had beautiful housing. No complaints. What discrimination can (there) be against people that you bring to Hawaii from Thailand and give them (a) better life?”
However, U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi, nominated to the court by form President Barack Obama, ruled Global Horizon managers “physically abused” some of the workers. Specific instances were detailed in court documents.
“One manager told workers that anyone who ran away would be shot, deported or arrested,” the judge said, adding in her ruling, “Global Horizons chose Thai workers based on a stereotype that Thai workers would be more compliant and less likely to escape or cause other problems.”
Kobayashi also found that at Maui Pineapple, “a high metal fence containing three layers of wire surrounded the workers’ housing, and 10 security guards patrolled the area 24 hours a day, making the workers feel like prisoners. Maui Pineapple housing was infested with rats and bugs and lacked hot water for bathing.” And, she said, “Workers were also not provided with sufficient food. A typical meal consisted of rice, a slice of pineapple, two hard-boiled eggs or a few pieces of bacon.”
Some of the workers eventually relocated back to Thailand while others left Hawaii and settled elsewhere in the U.S. “The collection of the money meant justice was served, though it’s taken longer than hoped,” Park said. “To come to this point, where we’re able to actually collect on the judgement is very important to us and our mission to vindicate the rights of the most vulnerable people.”