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EEOC Combats Human Labor Trafficking

Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000

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Victims of human trafficking can be men, women, or children of varying ages, varying educational levels and varying skills. The victims can be highly skilled and actually come into the country on legitimate visas. Unlike smugglers, traffickers can gain legitimate visas to bring in people from around the world and force them to work or provide sex against their will.

What we have seen are temporary contracting agencies bringing in workers through legitimate means under the auspices of luring people with the promise of work so that they can lead a better life. However, the victims are charged exorbitant fees that the workers can never pay because, often times, they are never paid for their work. This fee is used to subjugate and exploit the workers, forcing them to tolerate and endure intolerable situations. What emerges is a picture, unique to trafficking cases, that does not exist in other cases.

- Anna Park, EEOC/Los Angeles, Regional Attorney

 

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What can we do

What EEOC can do...

The EEOC enforces the law against treating workers differently based on their national origin. Human labor trafficking often thrives on exploiting the vulnerability of immigrant workers and targets specific national origins based on stereotypes about who best performs certain jobs or is less likely or able to complain about exploitation.

The EEOC also enforces the law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, including intellectual disabilities, in all terms and conditions of employment. This law also bars disability-based harassment. Human traffickers may target workers who are vulnerable because of their intellectual or other disabilities.

Even in situation in which forced commercial sex is absent, trafficked women are often sexually assaulted or subjected to other severe sexual harassment. The EEOC has a wealth of experience in investigating and litigating sexual harassment cases, including cases brought on behalf of immigrant women workers.

There are forms of labor exploitation that do not fall within the statutory definition of human trafficking, but which are every bit as severe and which often involve elements of employment discrimination. In those "less than trafficking" cases, the EEOC's role becomes particularly important, as it may be the only federal agency with jurisdiction over the employers'' exploitation of workers.

Furthermore, EEOC is a "Certifying Agency" for U Visas and may also certify T Visas. This means that EEOC can help workers who are victims of certain crimes apply to remain in the U.S. and continue to work as long as they cooperate with law enforcement authorities.

Highlights of EEOC's Human Trafficking Cases

2020: The EEOC reached a settlement with Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards, the remaining defendants in the EEOC’s Global Horizons case in Washington State, a case that was originally filed in 2011. Green Acre and Valley Fruit agreed to collectively pay $325,000 to Thai farmworkers who were brought to the United States to work on the farms on H-2A visas by Global Horizons, a labor services company. The farms also agreed, among other relief, to treat workers from farm labor contractors as employees and to implement training for all managers and supervisors with the authority to hire and fire, as well as human resources employees, regarding compliance with Title VII. (Press Release: EEOC Settles National Origin and Race Discrimination Case on Behalf of Thai Farm Workers (8/21/20))

2018: In the wake of a 32-victim human trafficking scenario in Henry’s Turkey Service (see below for a summary of the 2013 case), the EEOC filed a similar case in South Carolina against Work Services, Inc. under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As in the prior case, the EEOC sought remedies for discrimination against six intellectually disabled employees who worked at a turkey-processing plant before being removed from the company bunkhouse by state and local law enforcement authorities. The suit sought relief for wages that were not paid to the workers, adverse terms and conditions of employment, and a hostile work environment over a period of several years. The EEOC maintained that the intellectual disabilities of the workers made them particularly vulnerable to abuse and unaware of their financial exploitation and the denial of their basic legal rights. EEOC coordinated the involvement and support of federal, state, and county authorities, as well as the S.C. Department of Disabilities and Special Needs and County Department of Social Services. In November 2018, the case was resolved by a five-year Consent Decree that includes an order of injunctive relief and a monetary remedy of $342,000. (Press Release: Release Announcing Filing of Suit in Work Services, Inc. for Disability Discrimination (10/3/16))

2016: A federal judge ordered Global Horizons, a California-based labor contractor, to pay $7.7 million to Thai workers in what the authorities then called the largest human trafficking case in the nation's agriculture industry. In its lawsuit, the EEOC alleged Global Horizons and farms in Washington and Hawaii engaged in a pattern or practice of subjecting more than 200 Thai farmworkers to a hostile work environment, harassment, and discrimination. The federal judge found that Global's discriminatory practices were "reprehensible" and the decision vindicated the Thai farmworkers who suffered from "fear, anxiety, anger, intimidation, humiliation, shame, and an unrelenting sense of imprisonment." (Press Release: Federal Judge Awards EEOC $7,658,500 in Case Against Farm Labor Contractor Global Horizons (5/2/16))

2015: The EEOC settled its case against Signal International, a marine services company with facilities along the Gulf Coast, that operated two labor camps where hundreds of guest workers allegedly were trafficked from India. The EEOC's lawsuit alleged the Indian welders and pipe-fitters at its Mississippi and Texas labor camps were subjected to segregated facilities and discriminatory terms and conditions of employment. After filing for bankruptcy, the company agreed to pay $5 million to compensate 476 Indian workers for claims of race and national origin discrimination. (Press Release: Signal International, LLC to Pay $5 Million to Settle EEOC Race, National Origin Lawsuit (12/18/15))

2014: In a companion Global Horizons case in Hawaii against five farms in that state and Global Horizons, Global Horizons was held liable for $8.7 million, and Maui Pineapple Company was held jointly and severally liable for $8.1 million out of the $8.7 million in compensatory and punitive damages because 54 of the 82 Hawaii claimants worked at Maui Pineapple through Global Horizons. The EEOC reached a settlement with the four other Hawaii farms for $3.6 million for the 500 Thai farmworker victims. (Press Releases: Federal Judge Awards EEOC $7,658,500 in Case Against Farm Labor Contractor Global Horizons (5/2/16))

2013: EEOC brought a case against Hill Country Farms, Inc. dba Henry's Turkey Service, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), on behalf of 32 intellectually disabled individuals for abuse they suffered while working at a turkey-processing plant from 2007 to 2009, after 20 years of similar mistreatment. These men were subjected to trafficking and severe forms of exploitation, abuse, and discrimination that included non-payment of wages, a hostile work environment, and disparate terms and conditions of employment such as substandard living conditions; denial of medical care; and restrictions on freedom of movement, communication, and socialization. Prior to trial, a judgment was rendered in 2012 by a federal judge in favor of the class members’ wage claim, awarding them $1,374,267 in back pay. This award was followed in May 2013 by a jury award for $240 million for compensatory and punitive damages, which was subsequently reduced to $1.6 million based on the applicable statutory caps. The total damages, including interest, awarded to the workers with disabilities was approximately $3.4 million. As a result of the EEOC’s lawsuit, the class members were also later able to recover decades of social security benefits they had not received. (Press Release: Release Announcing Verdict in Henry's Turkeys (5/1/13))

2013: The EEOC reached a settlement with Del Monte Fresh Produce, one of the nation's leading producers of fresh fruit and vegetables. Del Monte agreed to pay $1.2 million, which was distributed to Thai farmworkers and to institute comprehensive protocols and accountability measures to ensure that all farm labor contractors that work with Del Monte Fresh Produce comply with federal laws against discrimination and retaliation. This was the first settlement in the EEOC's lawsuit in Hawaii against Global Horizons and various farms who contracted with Global Horizons. (Press Release: Del Monte Fresh Produce Agrees to Settle EEOC Farmworker National Origin Lawsuit (11/18/13))

2006: The EEOC reached a settlement with Trans Bay Steel, Inc. for an estimated $1 million in total monetary relief and compensation for 48 Thai welders. EEOC charged that the class of Thai nationals - contracted under H2B visas by Trans Bay and a third-party agency - were held against their will, had their passports confiscated, had their movements restricted, and were forced to work without pay. Additionally, some workers were confined to cramped apartments without any electricity, water, or gas. At least 17 of the workers were told if they tried to leave the location where they were being forcibly held, the police and immigration officials would be called to arrest them. EEOC also contends that all the workers were made to pay exorbitant "fees" to the recruiting company which kept them in involuntary servitude. (Press Release: EEOC Resolves Slavery and Human Trafficking Suit Against Trans Bay Steel for an Estimated $1 Million (12/8/06))

2006: A federal judge ordered John Pickle Company, Inc. to pay $1.24 million to 52 Indian skilled laborers. Workers testified at trial to being lured to the United States by JPC with the promise of lawful wages and appropriate working conditions. However, on arrival, JPC confiscated identification and immigration documents, crammed the workers into a warehouse "dormitory," and only paid them between $1.00 and $3.17 per hour (while non-Indian employees were paid approximately $14.00 per hour for performing the same type of skilled work). The judge ruled that JPC was responsible for subjecting the Indian workers to fraud and deceit, inadequate pay, sub-standard living conditions, false imprisonment, lockdowns with an armed guard, phone tapping, food rationing, restrictions on freedom to worship, degrading job assignments, ethnic slurs, intimidation, and the non-payment of wages earned. (Press Release: Judge Orders John Pickle Co. to Pay $1.24 Million to 52 Foreign Workers in Human Trafficking Case (5/26/06)