Thursday, February 7, 2019

EEOC v. Global Horizons

The panel reversed the district court’s orders in an enforcement action brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on behalf of Thai workers alleging discrimination charges against Green Acre Farms and Valley Fruit Orchards (the “Growers”).

The Growers retained Global Horizons, Inc., a labor contractor, to obtain temporary workers for their orchards. Global Horizons recruited workers from Thailand and brought them to the United States under the H-2A guest worker program. The district court entered a default judgment against Global Horizons after it discontinued its defense in the action; this case focuses solely on the liability of the Growers.

The district court granted in part the Growers’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. The district court drew a distinction between orchard-related matters (managing, supervising, and disciplining the Thai workers at the orchards) and non-orchard-related matters (housing, feeding, transporting, and paying the workers).

The panel held that the district court erred in holding that the Growers could not be held liable under Title VII for non-orchard-related matters.

Deciding in the first instance what test to employ for determining whether an entity is a joint employer under Title VII, the panel held that the common-law agency test should be applied. Under the common-law test, the principle guidepost is the element of control. The panel rejected the chief alternative for analyzing employment relationships in the Title VII context: the economic-reality test.

The panel held that the district court correctly determined that the EEOC’s allegations were sufficient to establish that the Growers and Global Horizons were joint employers as to orchard-related matters. Applying the common-law agency test, the panel concluded that the EEOC adequately alleged that the Growers’ employment relationship with the Thai workers also subsumed non-orchard-related matters.

The panel held that the EEOC plausibly alleged Green Acre’s liability as a joint employer for the discriminatory conduct of Global Horizons. The panel further held that the EEOC plausibly alleged Green Acre’s liability under Title VII for discrimination relating to non-orchard-related matters. The panel also held that the EEOC’s allegations were thinner as they related to the liability of Valley Fruit. The panel reversed the district court’s dismissal of the EEOC’s allegations against Valley Fruit with respect to non-orchard-related matters; and directed on remand that the EEOC be permitted to amend its complaint as to Valley Fruit’s liability for non-orchard-related matters. The panel further directed that the district court should then reconsider the disparate treatment claim (and the related pattern-or practice claim) in light of the EEOC’s allegations regarding both orchard-related and non-orchard-related matters.

The panel reversed the district court’s order denying the EEOC’s motions to compel discovery regarding the Growers’ liability with respect to non-orchard-related matters. The panel also reversed the district court’s order granting the Growers’ motion for summary judgment. Finally, the panel reversed the district court’s order granting the Growers’ motions for attorneys’ fees because the Growers were no longer prevailing parties.

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