A Beverly Hills farm labor contractor that brought Thai citizens to the U.S. to work in Yakima Valley orchards is liable for nearly $7.7 million for violating their civil rights.
Global Horizons Inc., also known as Global Horizons Manpower Inc., agreed to the default judgment because it cannot afford to pay for a legal defense, said its attorney Javier Lopez-Perez. The firm is unrelated to a Minneapolis nonprofit that shares its name.
Tuesday, U. S. District Judge Edward Shea entered a default judgment against Global Horizons and its co-defendants providing between $40,000 and $210,000 to 67 Thai workers who suffered discrimination, harassment, threats of financial ruin, arrest and other mistreatment while working on Global Horizon’s farm contracts.
$7.7 million Default judgment against Global Horizons, Inc. for violating civil rights of Thai guest workers in Washington state
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The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Global Horizons and the orchards it worked for in 2011 under the federal Civil Rights Act on the Thai workers’ behalf. The suit names Green Acre Farms of Yakima Valley and Valley Fruit Orchards of Royal City as co-defendants.
Shea did not address what, if any, responsibility Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards bear in his 30-page order granting an EEOC motion for judgment. The EEOC had no comment on the ruling. An attorney for the co-defendants was not available to comment.
Shea focused his comments on Global Horizons, which controlled the workers’ movements and assignments.
“Global’s conduct ... was clearly and convincingly both malicious and with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of each of the claimants,” he wrote.
Global’s conduct...was clearly and convincingly both malicious and with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of each of the claimants
Judge Edward Shea
Shea wrote that the company acted without regard for the health and safety of the workers and said they were targeted for their ethnicity and financial vulnerability.
Global Horizons intentionally recruited impoverished Thai workers for its U.S. labor contracts because it believed they would be more manageable, less likely to complain when the company seized their passports or if they received less work than promised, Shea wrote. Global brought the workers to the U.S. under the H2-A temporary worker visa program.
He said the workers were “desperate” for wages to pay off “exorbitant” recruitment fees paid to sign up for work in the first place. The fees were frequently mortgaged by their property and the property of their relatives in Thailand. Failure to earn wages in the U.S. would have been ruinous to the workers and their families back home.
Read more The EEOC’s amended complaint and Judge Shea’s order is below.
Shea said Global Horizons falsely promised the workers high wages and three years of steady employment.
Instead, they were required to give their passports to their supervisors when they reached the U.S., were not regularly employed, were not always paid promptly and were prohibited from contact with outsiders. They were subject to curfews, lived in unsanitary, remote, bug-infested quarters and were routinely threatened with arrest and deportation if they complained.
Shea documented one incident where a supervisor displayed a gun and another where a supervisor struck a worker with a cane to get him to work faster.
Shea said the result for workers was “an unrelenting sense of imprisonment.”
Shea awarded workers $5,000 in compensatory damages for each month worked for Global Horizons in the Washington orchards and an additional $15,000 in punitive damages intended to punish the company for its conduct.
The worker who was struck with a cane received additional compensation, as did 14 workers who were detained by police for almost a day. Shea did not say if Global Horizons was responsible for the arrests, but said it was consistent with its threats to have workers arrested and deported before they could earn enough money to repay the recruitment fees.