Latino meatpacking plant workers who sued the federal government after they were singled out from their white coworkers during a discriminatory workplace raid in Tennessee more than four years ago have won a major financial settlement, Tennessee Outlook reports.
While a federal judge must still sign off on the agreement, plaintiffs from the litigation are set to receive a $1.175 million settlement from the federal government. Workers had been granted class action status earlier this year, alleging federal immigration and tax agents targeted them while ignoring their white workers. Immigrant workers who had permission to work in the U.S. were also unjustly targeted. Documents from the litigation would later reveal agents discussing sweeping up Latino workers before any raid had even taken place.
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Under the proposed agreement, the seven Latino workers who initially launched the litigation will split a $475,000, Tennessee Outlook said. “All other members of the remaining class of workers impacted by the April 2018 raid will receive a total of $550,000, with each of the 100 class members expected to receive between $5,000 and $6,000 each.”
Additionally, Tennessee Outlook reported that immigrant workers targeted in the raid could obtain documentation from the federal government “confirming their status as a class member in this case that class members may submit when seeking immigration relief.” Knox News reported this as a deferment of deportation. While not explicitly noted in the reports, immigrants who are victims of crime and then work with law enforcement can also be eligible for permanent relief through a U-visa.
“The settlement provides meaningful monetary relief for approximately 100 class members who were Latino employees detained during the April 5, 2018 enforcement operation at the Southeastern Provision meat processing plant,” workers’ attorneys said, according to Tennessee Outlook. Advocating for the workers had been National Immigration Law Center; Southern Poverty Law Center; pro bono attorneys Eben P. Colby, Jeremy A. Berman, Arthur R. Bookout; and the law firms of Sherrard, Roe, Voigt & Harbison, and Sperling & Slater.
At least one worker had been violently assaulted by a federal agent during the April 2018 raid at the Southeastern Provision slaughterhouse in Bean Station. The court had in August approved the release of surveillance footage showing an agent placing his boot on a worker’s neck. The worker, a Honduran man who has since been deported, did not resist agents once they had physically restrained him. Yet the agent, identified as John Witsell, placed his foot on the man’s neck for 25 seconds.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Steger approved the video’s release following a push from Tennessee Lookout, saying the “public has a strong interest in understanding how law enforcement performs its critically important duties,” and that “transparency is necessary to prevent abuses.” As previously noted here at Daily Kos, the federal government had also been brawling against detained workers who had been seeking class-action status, a despicable move that could have forced each of the 104 workers to launch individual lawsuits against federal departments. But in August, the court judge sided with the workers, approving class-action status.
When it came to the devastating workplace raids targeting Mississippi plants in 2019, no high-level executive faced any charges. But in the case of the Southeastern Provision slaughterhouse, the plant’s owner did face charges, sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty “to federal charges of tax evasion, wire fraud and employing unauthorized immigrants,” Knox News said. Knox News said that James Brantley admitted to encouraging workers to use false documentation, and during his scheming, avoided paying more than $1 million in taxes.
In 2020, Brantley also agreed to pay $610,000 in back pay and damages to current and former workers. “Two white plant supervisors were allowed to strike deals, too, receiving probationary sentences,” Knox News said.
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