Koch Foods Pay $3.75 million to settle discrimination suit

TRLA's Southern Migrant Legal Services filed first complaint on workers' behalf

 

JACKSON, Mississippi (July 31, 2018) – Poultry supplier Koch Foods of Mississippi, LLC will pay $3.75 million and furnish other relief to settle two lawsuits filed by eleven workers and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The workers, who filed the first of the two discrimination lawsuits against Koch Foods eight years ago, were represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS) and attorney Rob McDuff, of Jackson, Mississippi. 

“Our clients were very brave in making the choice to speak out,” said Caitlin Berberich, an attorney with SMLS who represented some of the workers. “We are pleased that after eight years of litigation, our clients and Koch Foods were able to resolve this matter, including implementation of practices that will hopefully prevent the types of abuses alleged in this case from happening in the future. This was important to our clients from the beginning.” SMLS is a Tennessee-based project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA).

The workers’ lawsuit–alleging sexual harassment, retaliation, and national origin and race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 19 81 and Mississippi negligence law–was first filed on March 1,2010 (Cazorla v. Koch Foods of Mississippi, LLC, et. al., Civ. No. 3:10-cv-135 (S.D. Miss.)). After investigating the complaints brought by the eleven workers, the EEOC filed its own suit on June 29, 2011 for similar allegations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the EEOC’s suit alleged discrimination against a class of Hispanic workers at a Koch chicken processing plant in Morton, Mississippi (EEOC v. Koch Foods of Miss., LLC, Civ. No.11-cv-391 (S.D. Miss.).

The EEOC and SMLS cases were subsequently consolidated. The two lawsuits alleged that Koch Foods subjected Hispanic employees and female employees to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment based on their race/national origin and sex, and then retaliated against those who complained. The workers alleged that supervisors touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees and charged many of them money for normal, everyday activities at work, such as using bathrooms, taking leave, or requesting job transfers. Further, a class of Hispanic employees was subject to retaliation in the form of discharge and other adverse actions after complaining.

The three-year consent decree entered today by Judge Daniel P. Jordan III provides for $3.75 million in monetary relief for the victims. In addition, Koch Foods will take specific actions to prevent futurediscrimination, including providing anti-discrimination training to employees; creating a 24-hour hotline for reporting discrimination complaints in English and Spanish; and posting anti-discrimination policies and notices in its workplace in English and Spanish.

Southern Migrant Legal Services is a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) that provides free legal services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Established in 1970, TRLA is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area in Texas.

Rob McDuff is a private attorney based in Jackson, MS who has been practicing civil rights law in Mississippi for over 30 years. His firm handles complex civil litigation, particularly in the area of civil rights, and maintains a vibrant criminal defense practice.