Discriminating against American-born workers? Ga. farm settles suit

A south Georgia vegetable farm has agreed to pay $205,000 to settle federal allegations that it discriminated against American workers in favor of foreign-born workers, some of whom were brought in under a temporary visa program.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had sued J&R Baker Farms near Moultrie and the two brothers who owned it, Jerod and Rodney Baker, claiming that since 2010 they subjected American-born field workers to different working conditions, gave them little or no training, frustrated their production rate and subjected them to production standards that had not been disclosed and weren’t also imposed on foreign-born workers.

The federal commission sought relief for 119 workers.

The farm’s owners denied the contentions, even as they settled the suit.

“The two brothers couldn’t handle fighting the federal government,” Larry Stine, one of the attorneys representing them, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The settlement was a pittance of the original demand. We think that if they had been able to afford litigation they would have prevailed.”

Stine said the allegations stemmed from a dispute about how much American workers really wanted to take on the difficult conditions of field work compared to immigrant workers brought in under H-2A visas. The program for temporary seasonal agriculture jobs requires that employers demonstrate there aren’t enough U.S. workers able, willing, qualified and available to do the work.

The EEOC’s suit against the Bakers claims that the Colquitt County farm quickly shed American-born workers while adding foreign-born workers. For example, in the first six weeks of the fall 2010 agricultural season, 116 of the 121 American-born workers lost their jobs, according to the suit.

The EEOC alleged African-American workers also were discriminated against based on their race.

LINK: Past instances of Georgia farms settling lawsuits involving immigrant workers

LINK: Expecting labor help, South Georgia farmers get inspections instead