SEATTLE -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today settled a lawsuit alleging that American Seafoods Company, a Seattle-based operation and a dominant force in the U.S. fishing industry, subjected 18 Vietnamese American at-sea workers to discriminatory conditions because of their national origin. Under terms of the settlement, the workers will be awarded $1,250,000 for the discrimination they suffered.
The class action lawsuit, the first of its kind filed by the Commission which involves a class of Vietnamese Americans, alleged that American Seafoods created a hostile work environment for the crew members, denied training and promotional opportunities, subjected members to undesirable living and working conditions (housing, meals and medical treatment), demoted them, and reduced pay rates and terminated crewmen for requesting time off due to illness.
"The circumstances of this case represent some of the most egregious types of discrimination in which a class of Vietnamese American workers was singled out and targeted by an employer merely because of their nationality," said EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro. "EEOC will vigorously pursue such instances of bias under our Comprehensive Enforcement Program in order to root out employment discrimination and ensure equal opportunity in the workplace for all."
Paul M. Igasaki, EEOC's Vice Chair, stated, "An employer must not use a worker's national origin as a basis for unfair or inhumane treatment. It is simply unlawful." Mr. Igasaki continued, "By reaching this settlement, EEOC hopes to send a clear message that the exploitation of the newest Americans will not be tolerated."
In litigating this class action, EEOC worked in cooperation with the Seattle law firm Helsell Fetterman. In addition to claims of employment discrimination, the private lawsuit also alleged several maritime law violations. A Consent Decree was filed with the court on September 16, 1999, which will be in effect for a period of two years.
Under the terms of the Consent Decree, American Seafoods agrees to implement a new program to provide equal training and employment opportunities for fish processors, conduct training regarding American Seafoods' discrimination policies and procedures, and provide quarterly reports to the EEOC with respect to American Seafoods' compliance with the Consent Decree. The Consent Decree also sets forth procedures for record keeping and compliance review. The Court retains jurisdiction over this matter for the duration of the Consent Decree.
"The Commission is pleased that we were able to obtain substantial monetary relief for these crewmen and that American Seafoods has voluntarily agreed to implement a strong training and promotion program for processors, as well as formal training on the prevention of harassment for supervisors and key crew," said EEOC General Counsel C. Gregory Stewart. "In addition, American Seafoods will report to EEOC its progress on these issues to ensure compliance with terms of the Consent Decree."
EEOC's Seattle office director Jeanette Leino said: "The resolution of this lawsuit is a significant step in changing the way employers in the Seattle/Alaskan fishing industry view their largely minority processing crews. These processors are key to the success of American Seafoods and other fishing companies. The Consent Decree reached in this matter will ensure that these employees are recognized for their contributions, are afforded equal employment opportunities to succeed in the fishing industry, and are treated with the respect they deserve."
On September 23, 1998, the district court granted EEOC's motion to intervene in the case. The Commission's intervention, which occurred after extensive consultations with private plaintiffs' attorneys, was necessary to root out egregious discrimination stemming from the private civil action filed on April 22, 1998. Through its involvement in the case, EEOC was able to obtain significant admissions regarding the employer's lack of adequate policies and procedures to train and promote minority processors to higher paying positions, as well as its complete disregard for the health and safety of the Vietnamese American workers.
In February 1998, when the events resulting in the lawsuit occurred, American Seafoods was the largest fishing company in the United States, operating 16 factory trawlers in the Bering Sea, as well as in the waters off Russia and South America, and employing over 2,000 fishers, processors and other at-sea workers. While still dominant in the fishing industry today, recent Congressional legislation has required the company to cut back its factory trawler fleet.
The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Equal Pay Act; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; prohibitions against discrimination affecting individuals with disabilities in the federal government; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Additional information about the Commission is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.
This page was last modified on September 22, 1999.
Return to Home Page