A divided three judge federal appeals court awarded nearly $2 million Aug. 17 to Latino workers who accused a Los Angeles-based farm labor contractor and two Washington grower-shippers of violating federal labor laws.
A suit, filed by Columbia Legal Services, Seattle, in June 2005 on behalf of the workers, charged Global Horizons Inc. brought in 175 workers from Thailand under the federal H-2A guest-worker program in 2004 and 2005. The suit claimed Latino workers at Valley Fruit Orchards LLC, Wapato, Wash., and Green Acre Farms LLC, Harrah, Wash.,were fired and replaced by the Thai workers, according to federal court documents.
Company officials said the plaintiffs in the case either quit or were terminated for cause, the Huffington Post reported.
A jury in 2009 found for the plaintiffs and awarded more than $300,000 to the estimated 600 Latino workers, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic. Later that year, U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley amended the award to $237,000 and ordered the award to be paid only by Global Horizons.
On appeal, two judges of the federal panel increased the award and held the grower-shippers and Global Horizons jointly liable.
The state of Washington revoked Global Horizons’ operating license in 2006 in the wake of charges of wage and labor law violations.
Telephone calls to the defendants were not returned, but they face more accusations.
In April 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a series of federal lawsuits on behalf of the Thai workers, according to the Herald-Republic, against Global Horizons, the two Washington grower-shippers and eight grower-shippers in Hawaii.
The EEOC in the suits accused the farms of ignoring abuses and participating in the mistreatment, intimidation, harassment and unequal pay of the Thai workers, the Herald-Republic reported.