EEOC Sues In Apparent Sharecropper Abuse Case 

A heartwarming story just in time for Thanksgiving.  Its a case about the abuses of sharecropping – or at least its more modern manifestation, which looks pretty much the same.


Wait — that went out years ago – right?

Not quite.

The EEOC just sued an Alabama temporary staffing firm alleging that the Hispanic workers it sent to a poultry processing facility were “segregated in less desirable, more hazardous positions, paid less, and provided fewer hours than their non-Hispanic counterparts. In addition, [it] deducted exorbitant relocation, housing and transportation fees from the workers’ pay,” and did nothing to address their complaints of ethnic slurs, threats and verbal abuse.


The EEOC also alleged that many of these workers developed disabilities — repetitive motion impairments — but were refused accommodations.

Sound vaguely familiar somewhere in America’s past?

Sharecropping abuse, as was practiced, for example, after the abolition of slavery, was exemplified by “cases of high interest rates, unpredictable harvests, and unscrupulous landlords and merchants often keeping tenant farm families severely indebted. The debt was often compounded year on year leaving the cropper vulnerable to intimidation and shortchanging.”

In time for Thanksgiving, recall Henry’s Turkey?   The company that exploited vulnerable intellectually challenged and disabled workers by, among many other things, paying them $65 a month to eviscerate turkeys?  The case that was settled by the EEOC for $5,000,000?

Henry’s was, I said, “the poster bird for the abuse of intellectually disabled employees.”

This latest suit is a reminder:  The EEOC has set as one of its six Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”) priorities the protection of “vulnerable workers,” such as these.

What is a “vulnerable” worker?  Workers who are subject to discrimination and harassment, mostly evidenced by their powerlessness and the low status of their jobs.  For example they may fear running afoul of immigration laws; they may be unable to speak English; they may be physically isolated in the job, be it in a field or a warehouse; or perhaps they are mentally challenged.

One EEOC attorneys said that “The goal of Title VII is to ensure employers treat their employees equally, regardless of national origin. EEOC will continue to take action against staffing companies that violate the law and protect all employees against discrimination, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.”

Said an EEOC district director:  “When employers ignore requests for disability accommodations made by any employee, whether temporary or permanent, foreign- or domestic-born, they may run afoul of federal law.”

Takeaway:  Fowl play by employers such as these give the rest of us a black eye.



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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]