This week, a federal district court ruled that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made sufficient factual allegations of intentional discrimination against a local farming company to survive a motion to dismiss. What makes this case unusual is that the EEOC alleges discrimination against U.S.-born workers, a departure from a typical “national origin” discrimination case alleging discrimination against foreign-born workers.
According to the allegations in EEOC v. J&R Baker Farms LLC, a Georgia farm violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and engaged in unlawful discrimination by subjecting its American workers—both white and African American—to different terms and conditions of employment. For example, Baker Farms allegedly divided its work crews by national origin and race, with foreign, often Hispanic, workers placed in one group and American workers in another. American workers were also held to higher production standards than their foreign coworkers. On one occasion, several American workers were fired for not meeting a vegetable picking quota that had not been announced until after they were terminated; foreign workers had no quota at all. Finally, the EEOC presented statistics that American workers were fired at a much higher rate than their foreign coworkers.
Baker Farms filed a motion to dismiss the suit, claiming that the EEOC failed to present sufficient factual allegations. Baker Farms argued the EEOC failed to identify any individuals who instituted these practices and failed to provide specific dates for the actions alleged. Therefore, the EEOC failed to satisfy federal pleading standards. The district court disagreed.
The court first noted that on a motion to dismiss, the EEOC need not prove its allegations, but instead must only make plausible allegations which, if true, would prove a violation. The EEOC clearly identified a class of employees—U.S. -born workers—whom the defendants subjected to different, more rigorous terms and conditions of employment. Therefore, the allegations were sufficient to demonstrate intentional “disparate treatment.” Additionally, the court noted that the EEOC provided statistics regarding disproportionate termination of American workers. In the fall of 2010, the EEOC alleged that Baker Farms fired 116 of its 121 American employees, while increasing its foreign-born workforce from 88 to 117. The court held that, if proven, Baker Farms could be liable for disparate treatment in violation of Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on national origin.
The EEOC claims that Baker Farms is just one example of “reverse” national origin discrimination. According to the director of the EEOC Atlanta District Office, “This is not the first time the EEOC has seen this kind of discrimination against American workers due to negative stereotypes of their work ethic and likelihood to complain about injustice.” The EEOC has promised increased vigilance regarding similar misconduct. Employers and businesses should be just as vigilant and remember: Title VII protects all workers of every race, color, creed and national origin