Tennessee Company Accused of Discouraging Domestic Workers to Hire Foreign Labor

Under the H-2A program, farmworker jobs must be offered to domestic workers before an employer can hire temporary foreign workers.

Under the H-2A program, farmworker jobs must be offered to domestic workers before an employer can hire temporary foreign workers.

In early January, a Tennessee woman filed a complaint against Pope’s Plant Farm for unfair employment practices after the company discouraged her from accepting a job with them so that they could hire foreign-born workers.

Represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS), a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Sabrina Steele alleged that Pope’s Plant Farm and its owner, Mike Pope, discriminated against her for being a U.S.-born worker. When Steele was offered a position at the nursery she was told that she would be the only U.S.-born English speaker performing manual labor, that the ratio of male to female workers was about twenty to one, and that she would be required to work eighty hours per week. Steele later learned that temporary foreign workers were being offered similar positions on more reasonable terms.

“They purposefully offered her this position on undesirable terms so that she would turn it down and they could hire a foreign worker,” said Melody Fowler-Green, Steele’s attorney. “If she had been offered the same conditions being given to the other workers, she would have gladly accepted the job.”

Because Steele did not accept the position, Pope’s Plant Farm was able to use the H-2A guestworker program
to offer the position to temporary foreign workers. The H-2A program allows employers to hire foreign workers only when sufficient domestic labor cannot be found.

Added Fowler-Green, “The program is meant to give domestic workers every opportunity to take these jobs first. No one wins when companies cheat the system like this.”

Within days of filing the complaint, the case was settled.

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