ATLANTA — Federal officials say one of Georgia’s largest vegetable farm operators has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle claims that the company discriminated against American workers, particularly black workers, because of their race and national origin, while giving better treatment to workers from Mexico.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced the settlement Thursday involving Hamilton Growers Inc., which has done business as Southern Valley Fruit and Vegetable Inc. of Norman Park. Federal officials say the agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by the EEOC in September 2011.
The EEOC’s lawsuit alleged that the firm let most of its U.S. workers go, but kept nearly all of its workers from Mexico. The lawsuit also maintained that black workers got fewer hours and were forced into less-lucrative work.
According to the allegation filed in U.S. District Court, a group of American-born workers contend that between 2009 and 2010, the majority of all American workers hired by the company had been terminated or laid off and that, at one point, a human resources representative of the company told 80 employees in May 2010 that “All you Americans are fired.”
Court documents state that the defendant hired 347 American workers between 2009 and the end of 2010 and that 278 of those workers had been fired. During the same time, the company hired 888 workers from Mexico, few of which, the plaintiffs contend, were terminated.
The plaintiffs also contend that the American workers were given rows of produce to pick that had already been picked by Mexican workers, leaving the American workers with less per-piece money than their Mexican counterparts.
Furthermore, the lawsuit contends that black employees were fired en masse simply because they were black.
In its response, Hamilton Growers offered a blanket denial of the claims of the plaintiffs, saying that “all employment actions taken by defendant with respect to any aggrieved individual were taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.