Employment Law Daily EEOC gets $7.6M default judgment in suit over mistreatment of Thai guestworkers
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Friday, April 29, 2016

EEOC gets $7.6M default judgment in suit over mistreatment of Thai guestworkers

By Brandi O. Brown, J.D. After Global Horizons, Inc., failed to enter a defense to the EEOC's claims that it mistreated Thai workers, a federal district court in Washington granted the EEOC's motion for default judgment and damages of over $7.65 million. The factual allegations in the EEOC’s complaint established the employer's liability, the court concluded, and the facts justified an award of both compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the workers, who described months of living in reprehensible, prison-like conditions and enduring unrelenting mistreatment (EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc. dba Global Horizons Manpower, Inc., April 26, 2016, Shea, E.). Prison-like confinement. According to the court's findings of fact, the claimants were impoverished Thai workers recruited by the defendant employer for purposes of staffing its labor contracts in the United States. The employer promised them high wages and steady employment. The workers, in turn, paid high recruitment fees, often mortgaging their own and family members' properties. The employer obtained H-2A guest worker visas for the employees; however, when they arrived in the U.S., they were required to give their passports to their supervisors and were threatened with deportation and/or arrest if they complained of their treatment or violated the rules set forth by the employer. The workers were prohibited from speaking with outsiders, given a curfew, and subjected to headcounts. Unsanitary living conditions. The workers also contended that they were pressured to work faster and harder, through the use of threats and, in some cases, physical violence. They were harassed and referred to in derogatory terms by their supervisors as well. And they were made to live in substandard living quarters that were overcrowded, unsanitary, bug-infested, and lacking in adequate basic amenities. Moreover, they were frequently denied transportation for the purposes of obtaining food and/or medical care. Damages. As a result of this treatment, the workers allegedly suffered from fear, anxiety, financial distress, and physical ailments such as headaches, ulcers, and depression. The court concluded that each claimant was proximately caused emotional distress and compensatory damages of at least $5,000 per month that he or she worked for the employer. Several of the claimants were also detained by the police, as the employer had threatened, and the fear and anxiety they experienced entitled them to an additional compensatory award of $2,500. The employees were entitled to punitive damages too, because the employer's conduct was “clearly and convincingly both malicious and with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of each of the claimants herein,” the court said. Based on the facts of the case, a punitive damages award of $15,000, for each month the employee worked for the employer in the state of Washington, was warranted. One worker who had been struck by a supervisor with a cane was awarded $16,000 for each month. Workers who had been arrested were awarded an additional $7,500 in punitive damages. The total award for each individual claimant ranged between $4,000 and $210,000, and the total judgment against the employer was $7,658,500.

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