HONOLULU — The U.S. government has collected more than half of a $8.1 million court judgement awarded six years ago to 54 Thai farmworkers abused while working on a Maui pineapple plantation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Tuesday.
The Justice and Treasury departments collected $4.8 million from Maui Pineapple and its entities, and the EEOC will distribute the money to the workers, said Anna Park, the commission’s regional attorney. The agencies will continue to collect funds owed the workers until the full judgment is satisfied, she said.
“This is not the end. This is the beginning. This was just a nice big chunk that came and gave some relief to the claimants. They’ve been waiting a long time,” Park said.
The EEOC sued Global Horizons, a labor contractor, and six Hawaii farms a decade ago. The lawsuit alleged workers were subjected to discrimination, uninhabitable housing, insufficient food, inadequate wages and deportation threats. Five farms settled for a total of $3.6 million.
A U.S. court in Honolulu in 2015 found the remaining farm that didn’t settle — Maui Pineapple Co. — was jointly liable with Global Horizons for $8.1 million.
The company, which is now known as Maui Land and Pineapple Co., didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Mordechai Orian, former president of Global Horizon, said his company shut down in 2007 and wasn’t able to fight the case against it. He called the judgment “absurd” and “crazy.”
“They had beautiful housing. No complaints. What discrimination can (there) be against people that you bring to Hawaii from Thailand and give them (a) better life?” he said.
U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi ruled Global Horizon managers physically abused some workers, including one manager who slapped a worker’s head after accusing him of helping another worker escape. Another manager grabbed a worker by his shirt and threw him against a wall and punched some workers in the face.
One manager told workers that anyone who ran away would be shot, deported or arrested, the judge said.
Global Horizons “chose Thai workers based on a stereotype that Thai workers would be more compliant and less likely to escape or cause other problems,” Kobayashi’s ruling said.
At Maui Pineapple, a high metal fence containing three layers of wire surrounded the workers’ housing, and 10 security guards patrolled the area 24 hours a day, making the workers feel like prisoners, the judge said. Maui Pineapple housing was infested with rats and bugs and lacked hot water for bathing, she said.
Workers were also not provided with sufficient food. A typical meal consisted of rice, a slice of pineapple, two hard-boiled eggs or a few pieces of bacon, the ruling said.
Park said some of the 54 workers remained in Hawaii, some returned to Thailand, and others moved to the U.S. mainland.
The collection of the money meant justice was served, though it’s taken longer than hoped, Park said.
“To come to this point, where we’re able to actually collect on the judgement is very important to us and our mission to vindicate the rights of the most vulnerable people,” she said.