Georgia farm settles suit over higher pay

A large Vidalia onion farm in Georgia has agreed to pay $92,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging it underpaid its U.S. citizen workers and offered higher wages to foreign guest laborers.

In a consent order filed Monday, Lyons-based Stanley Farms agreed to pay that amount for the plaintiffs’ back wages, damages and attorney fees.

The plaintiffs also alleged the farm transported them in unsafe vehicles and required them to pay for the tools they used to harvest the onions. As part of the settlement, the farm has agreed to comply with federal employment laws and regulations and to provide its workers with safe transportation and the tools they need to do their jobs.

“The farm is promising to pay U.S. and foreign workers equally and advertise for and transport, safely, the U.S. workers,” said Dawson Morton, a senior staff attorney with Georgia Legal Services who represented the plaintiffs. “That should reduce the exclusion of U.S. workers from Vidalia onion work and we hope assure equal treatment and equal pay.”

Stanley Farms did not admit to the allegations in the lawsuit but agreed to settle the case to avoid steep legal costs, said the farm’s attorney, Larry Stine.

“We still dispute that we are liable,” Stine said, “but it would cost us more to go to trial than to settle the case.”

Last year, the judge in the case dismissed the original plaintiffs’ claim that the farm discriminated against the U.S. workers by offering higher pay to foreign workers hired through the federal H-2A program. The plaintiffs later repeated their claim in an amended complaint. And as part of the settlement filed this week, the farm has agreed to pay the same wage rates to both groups of workers.

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