Judge OKs $2.4 million settlement

LIHUE — A federal judge on Thursday approved $2.4 million in settlements between the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and four Hawaii farms as co-defendants in a discrimination suit filed against Global Horizons, an employment agency that managed and mistreated 500 Thai farmworkers.

U.S. District of Hawaii Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi signed the orders, which allow for cash settlements and injunctive relief through consent decrees. It will ensure that farms and farm labor contractors disseminate policies and procedures prohibiting discrimination to their local workforce and to H2-A guest workers, said Anna Park, EEOC regional attorney for the Los Angeles District.

The order requires information in a language the workers understand, that the farms and labor management conduct audits to ensure compliance, and training of managers, supervisors and employees on obligations, Park added.

“We can now move forward with ensuring that the claimants in this case get justice,” Park said.

On June 3, the EEOC filed four consent decrees and proposed orders for consideration by the district court to resolve discrimination and retaliation lawsuits against Kauai Coffee Company, which settled for $425,000; Mac Farms of Hawaii for $1.6 million; Kelena Farms for $275,000; Captain Cook Coffee for $100,000 plus $4.9 million to match benefits; and Del Monte Farm Fresh settled for $1.2 million in late 2013.

The case, EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. et al., was originally filed in 2011 in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii. In March, Judge Kobayashi ruled that Beverly Hills-based Global Horizons was liable for a pattern or practice of harassing, discriminating, and retaliating against 500 Thai farm workers on American farms.

Global Horizons is a foreign labor provider that provided workers with H2-A temporary visas to Hawaii farms between 2003 and 2007. The EEOC named four Hawaii farms that contracted with Global Horizons as defendants for their part in the violations of failing to provide adequate food, housing, opportunity to work and pay.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure that the most vulnerable workers are not denied basic human dignity and life-sustaining water and food,” Park added. 

Kauai Coffee president and general manager Wayne Katayama said court approval of the consent decrees were important. If they were not approved then the case would go to trial and be more costly for everyone involved.

This is the second issue that Kauai’s only coffee grower has had with this EEOC case, he added. The other is that the responsibilities of the parties are very different, as Kauai Coffee Company today is owned by Massimo Zanetti, after a sale of assets in 2011 from McBryde Resources, that was owned by Alexander & Baldwin.

“The amount paid was by the old company,” he added. “We have not paid a cent toward this.”

Katayama said there is assurance through the compliance requirements that the grower would not experience similar trouble in the future. Some of the Thai workers involved in the settlement and left have returned to Kauai Coffee, he said.

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