WILMINGTON, N.C. – A North Carolina federal court has approved an agreement with a seafood company that will institute a gender non-discrimination policy and give back pay to three Mexican guest workers who claimed the company unlawfully restricted them to certain work solely because they are women.
The company will also reimburse the women and other guest workers for visa and travel costs and for wages the women, on behalf of a class of guest workers, claimed the company failed to pay them. Under a consent decree, the court will monitor the company for three years to ensure the terms of the settlement are enforced.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and the North Carolina Justice Center filed the original lawsuit and charges of discrimination on behalf of the women.
“We’re glad that the company recognizes that sex discrimination has no place in the workplace,” said Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Workers should be judged and offered work based on their qualifications, not their gender.”
The women were recruited in Mexico by Capt. Charlie’s Seafood, Inc. to process seafood in North Carolina. It also recruited men and agreed to pay all of the workers the prevailing hourly wage for seafood processing. To bring the migrant workers to the U.S. as legal temporary workers under the H-2B visa program, the seafood company was required to cover their travel and visa processing fees.
Once the workers arrived in North Carolina, however, the plaintiffs claimed that the seafood company restricted the women to certain jobs and offered them far fewer hours than it did the men, who were given a wider variety of jobs. At times, the women reported that they sat idly and watched in frustration as their male counterparts earned wages for work that both women and men are fully capable of performing.
Plaintiffs alleged that in August 2009, Capt. Charlie’s terminated a group of approximately 20 women crab pickers but kept on male workers who performed other work. Plaintiffs alleged that the company also failed to reimburse workers for their travel and visa expenses as required under the H-2B program and failed to pay the prevailing wage it had promised when recruiting them.
“H-2B visa workers already receive very low wages and cannot afford to have their pay brought even lower because of visa and transportation expenses which they shouldn’t have paid in the first place or because they are offered very little work,” said Clermont L. Fraser, one of the attorneys working on the case for the North Carolina Justice Center. “This settlement is good news for our clients, but also highlights the great potential for abuse in the H-2B system.”
The settlement requires Capt. Charlie’s to pay each of the women back pay, reimburse class members for their visa and travel costs and pay attorneys’ fees.
In addition, the consent decree provides for other worker protections including requiring the company to pay workers’ visa and transportation costs going forward, offer all jobs on a gender-neutral basis, promulgate a non-discrimination policy and explain it to employees in English and Spanish and provide outside anti-discrimination training to employees and officers.
Attorneys on the case, Landeros Covarrubias, et al. v. Capt. Charlie's Seafood, Inc., are Migdal and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women's Rights Project; Clermont L. Fraser and Carol L. Brooke of North Carolina Justice Center; and Katy L. Parker of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.
The consent decree can be found at: http://www.aclu.org/defending-targets-discrimination/covarrubias-v-capt-charlies-seafood-inc-consent-decree