Lawsuit states that Mississippi farm discriminated against its Black workers.
Six Black farm workers in Mississippi have alleged in a lawsuit filed this month that their former employer, the crop grower Pitts Farm Partnership, hired white laborers to do the same jobs they did while compensating their white counterparts more. The Mississippi Center for Justice and Southern Migrant Legal Services have brought the federal suit on behalf of the workers.
“The farm violated regulations of a foreign worker visa program,” the lawsuit contends, “which requires equal treatment of U.S. workers and their immigrant counterparts.” Ty Pinkins of the Mississippi Center for Justice said that due to high unemployment in the Mississippi Delta, “it is unacceptable and unlawful for farmers to hire outside workers when local residents need jobs. Unfortunately, this case is emblematic of a disastrous pattern in the South. Our research indicates that farm owners are increasingly abusing the H-2A program and denying opportunities to U.S. workers. The case also reflects our nation’s deep, ugly history of exploiting Black labor. For too long, powerful businesses have abused Black Americans for profit.”
Andrew Johnson, Wesley Reed, Gregory Strong and Richard Strong, four of the plaintiffs, said they performed farm related duties from February through November, and Pitts Farm Partnership “usually paid them the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, with $8.25 an hour for weekend work.” Two other plaintiffs, Stacy Griffin and James Simpson, drove trucks during harvest time, which is an especially busy time from late July or early August through November. They were paid “$9 an hour since 2018.” The suit further states, “The farm paid the white workers $9.87 an hour in 2014 and increased that rate each year until it reached $11.83 an hour in 2020.”
Amal Bouhabib, an attorney for Southern Migrant Legal Services, contended Pitts Farm Partnership has violated numerous laws. Bouhabib said, “The H-2A program allows U.S. farmers to hire foreign workers when no U.S. workers are available. It does not allow farmers to pay their American workforce less than the foreign workers, or to replace willing and able U.S. workers.”
The six workers, according to court documents, also had a white supervisor during their employment. The lawsuit states, “Occasionally, the supervisor used racial slurs. Pitts Farms was informed about the supervisor’s use of racial slurs and did nothing. The farm started bringing in white workers from South Africa in 2014, using a placement firm to hire seasonal labor, and that from 2014 to 2020, the farm did not make the same effort to recruit U.S. workers as it did to obtain immigrant workers.”
Mississippi has a long history of trying to dodge federal labor laws. In August 2019, agents from the U.S. immigration office searched seven livestock processing plants and arrested almost 700 Latino workers. Two years after that, Mississippi Center for Justice said roughly 200 more people were deported because of U.S. immigration orders, while 400 additional works were awaiting court hearings.
The current Pitts Farm lawsuit seeks unspecified amount in damages, including money the workers say they did not receive and should have while employed.