Thai workers settle lawsuit with Hawaii farms for $2.4 million

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - By: Jacquelyn Tacotaco and Jonathan Rombaoa

After filing a lawsuit in April 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced its settlement agreement with four farms in Hawaii on behalf of about 500 Thai workers.

The four farms involved were Captain Cook Coffee Company, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms and MacFarms. The EEOC originally filed the suit against the farms on the grounds of discrimination, harassment and retaliation against the Thai farm workers.

The EEOC says that the Thai workers were falsely promised steady, high-paying agricultural jobs as well as visas to allow them to legally live and work in the U.S. Instead, they were subject to uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, inadequate wages and deportation threats.

"We were underpaid and treated very poorly," said Kham Juan Namwichai, 53. "It was not what I was promised at all."

According to court documents, the farms also did not provide a safe working environment.

"In the beginning, I got sick. My body ached and I fainted," said Likhit Yoo-on, 43. "I told the supervisor but I still had to continue working."

The $2.4 million suit will be split between the four farms and distributed by the EEOC, said Anna Park, the regional attorney of the EEOC Los Angeles District. All the money will go directly to the victims.

MacFarms will pay $1.6 million, Kauai Coffee Company will pay $425,000, Captain Cook Coffee Company will pay $100,000 and Kelena Farms will pay $275,000, said Park.

"Kelena and Captain Cook specifically has agreed to provide jobs to anyone interested in the specific positions at the two farms," Park said. "Specifically, Kelena will be providing 37 full time positions with generous benefit packages. Including health [benefits], profit sharing, 401K and overtime where applicable."

Regardless of age, sex or ethnic background, justice and equality should be present in every workplace.

"Farms can't turn a blind eye," said Park.

Global Horizons and a total of six Hawaii farms were represented in the lawsuit. Del Monte Farm Fresh already settled for $1.2 million in November 2013. Maui Pineapple Company is the only Hawaii farm left in the case and is ongoing.

The date for the trial against Global Horizons is set for November 18 to determine how much the company will have to pay and the measurements needed to prevent future abuse of farm workers.

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