Tennesee Company Accused of Discouraging Domestic Workers to Hire Foreign Labor

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 5, 2009

Contact: Melody Fowler-Green, Attorney
615.750.1200
mfgreen@trla.org
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
512.374.2764
cmartinez@trla.org

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – A Maryville woman has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against Tennessee nursery Pope’s Plant Farm for unfair employment practices after the company discouraged her from accepting employment with them so that they could hire foreign-born workers.

Represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS), Sabrina Steele alleges 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.”

Steele’s complaint was filed with the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer at the Department of Justice.  She has filed similar complaints against Pope’s Plant Farm with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Tennessee Careers Center, which referred her to the position.

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 Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, 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. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.

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