EEOC Claims Against Yakima Farmers Again Dismissed By Court
Stokes Lawrence secured the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against two Yakima-based growers, Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards. The EEOC claimed the growers were legally responsible for the alleged mistreatment of guest workers that a farm labor contractor, Global Horizons, had brought to the United States from Thailand under the H-2A guest worker program.
Stokes Lawrence initially obtained summary judgment on behalf of the growers in 2014, when the district court rejected the EEOC’s claims and found that the evidence overwhelmingly contradicted the EEOC’s allegations that Valley Fruit and Green Acre Farms had (1) created a hostile work environment on their farms, (2) retaliated against Thai workers, and (3) engaged in unlawful harassment or retaliation as a standard operating procedure. The growers were also awarded attorneys’ fees of approximately $1 million on the grounds that the case was “baseless, unreasonable and frivolous.” However, the case was remanded by the Ninth Circuit to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington last year with instructions that the district court consider the EEOC’s theory that the growers could be held liable for Global Horizon’s conduct that took place away from their orchards.
In a comprehensive summary judgment ruling, U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson ruled that the EEOC failed to submit admissible evidence that the growers had mistreated any of the Thai workers, that the Thai workers were treated differently than similarly situated non-Thai workers, or that the growers should be held liable for the actions of Global Horizons.
The growers have again requested a ruling awarding them their attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in the litigation.