Former Employees and U.S. Government Claim Farm Illegally Prefers Foreign Workers
Documents filed Tuesday in the federal lawsuit EEOC v. Hamilton Growers show the largest grower in Colquitt County allegedly discriminated against more than 600 American workers over the last three years. In the suit, the EEOC claims that Hamilton Growers, Inc. d/b/a Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable, Inc. placed U.S. workers in less desirable job assignments and subjected them to different terms and conditions based on their American national origin and/or their non-Hispanic race. Hamilton Growers then unlawfully terminated the American workers or forced them to quit through discriminatory treatment.
“Hamilton Growers should be providing desperately needed jobs to the residents of Colquitt County, but instead they forced out hundreds of willing workers,” said Leah Lotto at the Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services, who represents forty of the workers who have joined the government’s lawsuit. Georgia Legal Services is a nonprofit law firm that represents low-income individuals for free, and may be reached at 1-800-537-7496.
The H-2A foreign worker program requires growers to certify to the federal government that there are not enough local workers to fulfill its labor needs. “Hamilton Growers, like all growers who use the H-2A program, has an obligation to prefer U.S. workers who apply for farm jobs,” says attorney Leah Lotto.
The suit before Judge Lawson is beginning discovery in the Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta Division, case number 7:11-cv-134 (HL). The EEOC has filed claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for race and national origin discrimination. Georgia Legal Services has intervened on behalf of forty of the affected workers to add claims for failure to pay the minimum wage, multiple violations of the Agricultural Worker Protection Act, race discrimination, and breach of the workers’ employment contracts.