Arkansas Farm Owner Settles Guestworker Lawsuit

Media Contact
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
512.374.2764 or cmartinez@trla.org
Sarah Donaldson, Attorney
203.907.5300 or sdonaldson@trla.org

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – December 15, 2009 – An Arkansas farm owner has settled a lawsuit filed by four Mexican guestworkers over abuses suffered while the workers were employed on an Austin–based farm.

Represented by Southern Migrant Legal Services, the guestworkers alleged that after Jack Odom, owner of Odom Farms, brought them to the United States for work, he confined them to a filthy, infested and dangerous metal packing shed, failed to reimburse travel costs as required by law, and then confiscated their passports in order to keep them at the farm. Their lawsuit, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and contract law, was filed in May 2009.

“Employers should know that if they bring in guestworkers and then treat the workers unlawfully, they will have to answer for their actions,” said the workers’ attorney Sarah Donaldson.

According to the lawsuit, the workers were not allowed to leave the inhumane conditions in their shed without an escort.  The men were subjected to verbal abuse and were threatened that Odom would keep them from returning to the United States legally if they complained or left due to the conditions.

Odom brought the workers to the United States using the H-2A guestworker visa program which allows employers to hire foreign workers if sufficient domestic labor cannot be found.  In addition to providing a way for foreign workers to come to the United States, the program also provides legal protections for their rights to safe housing, transportation, and adequate wages.

Added Donaldson, “Abuse of the guestworker program gives growers an unfair advantage over law-abiding competitors.”

A copy of the complaint filed by the workers can be found at http://bit.ly/jackodom.

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. 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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