54 Thais to Get $5M from Pineapple Farm Abuse Case in Hawaii

BenarNews staff
54 Thais to Get $5M from Pineapple Farm Abuse Case in Hawaii The seal of The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is seen at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, May 14, 2021.

The U.S. government will hand over nearly $5 million to dozens of Thai laborers who had worked at a pineapple plantation in Hawaii, as part of money recovered from a lawsuit over alleged workplace abuses, officials announced late Tuesday.

In 2015, a federal court in Hawaii awarded more than $8.1 million to 54 Thai nationals who had worked at Maui Pineapple Ltd., in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the nation’s labor trafficking laws.

The court found that the Thai workers were subjected to physical violence – such as being thrown against the wall, and grabbed and punched in the face – ruling that Maui Pineapple and other defendants were liable for discrimination over national origin and race, the EEOC said in a news release.

“After working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Treasury Department to recover $4.8 million to satisfy part of the judgment, the EEOC will now be distributing the money to the 54 Thai workers who were victims of abuse while working at Maui Pineapple,” the EEOC said.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Protecting vulnerable workers, including immigrant workers, is one of six national priorities identified by the agency.

“Justice has been achieved, but the length of time it’s taken for the compensation to arrive is an indictment to the slow nature of justice in legal systems across the world,” Andy Hall, a labor rights specialist and advocate for migrants workers in Southeast Asia, said Wednesday as he reacted to the announcement by the U.S. agency.

Charlotte A. Burrows, the EEOC’s chair, lauded the workers who had told the agency their stories to help build the case against Maui Pineapple, which is now called Maui Land & Pineapple Co., and other agricultural produce firms.

“I am grateful to the workers who had the courage to come forward, the dedicated staff in our Los Angeles District Office who sought justice on their behalf, and our partners across the federal government who worked with the EEOC to ensure monetary relief for the victims” Burrows said in a statement.

6 farms sued

The federal court’s ruling in 2015 said that Maui Pineapple had constantly threatened to deport the Thai workers, among other abuses, according to the EEOC.

“They were forced to live in substandard housing infested with rats, scorpions and bugs. Some were provided insufficient or malfunctioning toilet facilities,” the EEOC said about the court’s ruling six years ago.

“The Thai workers regularly received inadequate food, and some fainted in the fields. Working conditions were so oppressive that some Thai workers felt that they were treated more like prisoners and slaves.”

Rosa Viramontes, director of the EEOC’s Los Angeles office, said the agency would “continue to strive to eradicate national origin and race discrimination in employment.”

The EEOC had initially filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Hawaii against farm labor contractor Global Horizons and six farms in the state on behalf of several hundred Thai farmworkers. The EEOC had named the farms in Hawaii as defendants, saying they were joint employers with the labor contractor, and liable due to the acts committed by Global Horizons.

One of the farms, Del Monte Fresh Produce, settled for $1.2 million in November 2013. A year later, U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi in Hawaii approved settlements between EEOC and four other Hawaii farms totaling $2.4 million for about 500 Thai farmworkers.

That left Global Horizons and the Maui Pineapple Company as the only defendants remaining in the case. In 2015, the district court entered a default judgment against them, awarding 54 Thai workers $8.1 million in compensation.

EEOC said it would strive to collect the remaining $3.3 million awarded the 54 workers.

“The EEOC will continue its efforts to collect on the rest of the judgment,” the agency said.

Representatives of the Maui Land & Pineapple Company, based in Kapalua, Hawaii, did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment on Wednesday. 

Mordechai Orian, the former president of Global Horizon, whose company shuttered 14 years ago, described the federal court’s ruling as “absurd” and “crazy,” according to a report by the Associated Press.

“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?” he said.

Pimuk Rakkanam in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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