Workers represented by NC Justice Center attorneys will receive $600,000 in wages after employers paid them less than temporary foreign workers through the federal H-2A program

RALEIGH (January 24, 2020) – Farmworkers in Wilson County will receive back wages from their employer after being paid at a lower rate than temporary foreign workers performing the same work.

Judge Louise Flanagan of the Eastern District of North Carolina today gave final approval to the settlement agreement, which will pay the Scott Farms, Inc. farmworkers $600,000 in back wages. The lawsuit, filed in June 2017 by attorneys at the NC Justice Center and private attorney Robert Willis, alleged that Scott Farms, Inc. – an international company that supplies sweet potatoes to Whole Foods and other retailers – and its officers employed temporary foreign workers through the federal H-2A program while paying local employees at much lower wage rates to perform the same work.

The regulations governing the H-2A program require payment of what is known as an Adverse Effect Wage Rate to H-2A workers. Regulations say that H-2A employers must pay the same or higher wages to domestic farmworkers engaged in what is known as “corresponding employment” with H-2A workers so that the employment of H-2A workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers. The Adverse Effect Wage Rate for North Carolina in 2020 is $12.67 per hour.

Scott Farms, Inc. sweet potato packinghouse workers also asserted their right to overtime pay in the lawsuit.

In addition to making the payments due under the settlement, Scott Farms, Inc. is required to pay local workers who work alongside H-2A workers the higher H-2A wage rate for a period of three years.

“We are so impressed with the courage of the nine persons who stepped forward to speak out about the unfairness of performing the same work as H-2A workers for dollars less per hour,” said Carol Brooke, Senior Attorney with the Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project, who represented the farmworkers along with Justice Center Senior Attorney Clermont Ripley and private attorney Robert Willis. “Many of these workers were, and continue to be, Scott Farms employees. Their willingness to fight for their right to equal pay and overtime has benefited hundreds of farmworkers.”

A settlement was previously reached with Oasis Harvesting, Inc. and JFT Harvesting, Inc., and their officers, who were also defendants in the litigation.