MEDIA RELEASE: North Carolina Seafood Company Settles Visa Workers' Lawsuit

Women Visa Workers Represented By North Carolina Justice Center and ACLU Challenged Wage Violations, Gender-based Job Restrictions

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Nov. 21, 2011) - A federal court in North Carolina has given final approval to a class action settlement agreement in which a seafood company will reimburse class members for visa and transportation expenses and wages the class representatives claim the company failed to pay them.

In addition, the seafood company will institute a gender non-discrimination policy. The class representatives, three Mexican women who worked in North Carolina through the H-2B temporary visa program, claim the company unlawfully restricted them to certain work solely because they are women. Under a consent decree, the court will monitor the company for three years to ensure that the terms of the settlement are enforced.

The North Carolina Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation filed the original lawsuit on behalf of the women.

The women were recruited in Mexico by Captain Charlie's Seafood, Inc. to process seafood in North Carolina. The seafood company also recruited men and agreed to pay all of the workers the prevailing hourly wage for seafood processing. To bring the migrant workers to the U.S. as legal temporary workers under the H-2B visa program, the seafood company was required to cover their travel and visa processing fees.

"Workers on these H-2B visas already receive very low wages," said Clermont Fraser, one of the attorneys working on the case for the NC Justice Center. "They cannot afford to have their pay brought even lower because of expenses which they shouldn't have paid in the first place, or because they are offered very little work."

"This settlement is good news for our clients, but also highlights the great potential for abuse in the H-2B system," Fraser said.

The settlement requires Captain Charlie's to pay each of the women back pay, reimburse class members for their visa and travel costs, and pay attorneys' fees.

In addition, the consent decree will requires the company to pay workers' visa and transportation costs going forward, to offer all jobs on a gender-neutral basis to workers, to offer on-the-job-training to employees interested in learning how to do different jobs, keep records of employees who seek training or apply to do different work, promulgate a non-discrimination policy and explain it to employees in English and Spanish, provide outside anti-discrimination training to employees and officers, and keep track of hours, pay, and job functions worked by gender.

Attorneys on the case, Landeros Covarrubias, et al. v. Capt. Charlie's Seafood, Inc., are Fraser and Carol L. Brooke of the North Carolina Justice Center; Ariela Migdal and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women's Rights Project; and Katy L. Parker of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Robyn Shepherd, ACLU, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org; Jeff Shaw, North Carolina Justice Center, (919) 836-2402 or (503) 551-3615