While Del Monte Fresh Produce has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle claims in a discrimination lawsuit involving Thai farmworkers, a trial is set for February on the claims against California-based labor contractor Global Horizons and Maui Pineapple Co.
With four other farms also reaching settlements with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the case, Maui Pineapple is the only remaining farm in the lawsuit filed in 2011 over Thai workers provided by California-based labor contractor Global Horizons.
The lawsuit alleges that the farmworkers were provided uninhabitable housing, insufficient food and inadequate wages and were threatened with deportation.
Maui Pineapple received more than 100 Thai workers, one of the larger groups, said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC Los Angeles district. "Unfortunately, what happened at that farm were probably the worst allegations," she said Monday after a news conference announcing details of the Del Monte settlement.
Money from the Del Monte settlement will be distributed to workers who were brought to work at the company's farm in Hawaii in 2003 and 2006, Park said.
In addition, she said that Del Monte has agreed to institute measures to ensure that all farm labor contractors that work with the company comply with federal laws against discrimination and retaliation. She said it was the first effort of its kind for a farm to ensure farm labor contractor accountability for federal anti-discrimination laws.
The Del Monte settlement was the first to be announced. The other farms that have reached settlements are Mac Farms of Hawaii, Kelena Farms, Captain Cook Coffee Co. and Kauai Coffee Co.
A Feb. 11 trial date is set for Global Horizons and Maui Pineapple.
"At this point, we're headed for trial," Park said. "The commission is always open to trying to resolve it."
Park said that the commission is pursuing the claims against Maui Pineapple even though the longtime Maui Land & Pineapple Co. subsidiary is no longer in operation. "We don't take the position that you escape responsibility," she said.
The court denied a request to add Maui Land & Pineapple Co. as a defendant in the lawsuit, she said.
A call to Maui Land & Pineapple Co. wasn't returned Monday. But the company referred to the lawsuit in its recently released quarterly report. "The Company believes it has not been involved in any wrongdoing, disagrees with the charges and plans to vigorously defend itself," the report said.
Global Horizon sent Thai workers to harvest pineapple and do other field work at Maui Pineapple's Lahaina location from October 2004 to September 2005, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. Global supervisors oversaw the workers, who worked from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the fields five to six days a week.
The complaint says more than 100 Thai workers were housed in a "building that resembled a rundown military barrack," with some forced to sleep on the floor and others building their own beds out of wood. Some workers described their housing as infested with mosquitoes, "very dirty" and having no heat, fans or hot water.
In comparison, housing for Micronesian workers was less crowded, and they were treated more favorably because they had access to the kitchen and were free to leave, the complaint says.
In addition to being confined to quarters with a Global supervisor guarding entrances and exits, the complaint alleges that Thai workers were paid less or not at all, assigned to more difficult jobs and required to do more work than other workers at Maui Pineapple. Workers also said they didn't have enough food, according to the complaint.
The complaint also says workers witnessed a Global supervisor threaten workers with a gun, hold workers by their throats during meetings and grab a worker by his shirt and throw him against the wall.
Workers were threatened with arrest and deportation, according to the lawsuit, and some ran away to escape "intolerable conditions."
In its settlement with the federal commission, Del Monte acknowledged no wrongdoing. Its officials did not return a phone call seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Del Monte no longer operates in Hawaii, where it ran a pineapple plantation until 2006.
The company agreed to stricter labor compliance requirements for two years for all its farms and subsidiaries nationwide.
* The Associated Press contributed to this story. Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.