Women Guestworkers Challenge Seafood Company’s Gender-Based Job Restrictions

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Maria Archuleta, ACLU, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Jeff Shaw, North Carolina Justice Center, (919) 836-2402 or (503) 551-3615

Women Guestworkers Challenge Seafood Company’s Gender-Based Job Restrictions

Women Represented By ACLU And North Carolina Justice Center

COLUMBIA, NC - Three Mexican women employed on temporary
worker visas in North Carolina sued a seafood processing company today
for unlawfully restricting them to certain work solely because they are
women. The lawsuit also claims that the company underpaid them,
unlawfully failed to reimburse their travel costs and wrongfully fired
them. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina
Legal Foundation and the North Carolina Justice Center filed the lawsuit
on behalf of the three women and other workers in the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

“The company restricted these women
to certain types of jobs and limited the hours of work available to them
simply because they are women,” said Ariela Migdal, staff attorney with
the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The women were qualified for the
better jobs reserved for the men and entitled to an equal opportunity to
perform that work.”

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.

Once the workers arrived in North
Carolina, however, Captain Charlie’s restricted the women to picking
crabs, a job that entails cleaning meat from cooked crabs, and offered
them far fewer paid hours than it did to the men. The men, in contrast,
were given a variety of other jobs, such as cooking and carrying crabs
and handling crab traps. At times, the women sat idly and watched in
frustration as their male counterparts earned wages for work that both
women and men are fully capable of performing. Eventually, in August
2009, Captain Charlie’s terminated a group of approximately 20 women
crab pickers but kept on male workers who performed other work. The
company also failed to reimburse the workers for their travel and visa
expenses, as required under the H-2B program, and failed to pay the
prevailing wage it had promised when recruiting them.

“I was given different work and fewer
hours just because I am a woman,” said Sandivel Villanueva Flores, one
of the women represented in the case. “I don’t think that’s fair.” 

The women’s lawsuit charges that
Captain Charlie’s discriminated against them on the basis of sex by
restricting them to certain work, which culminated in their wrongful
termination in violation of North Carolina public policy prohibiting
such gender-based employment decisions. The lawsuit also charges that
the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and the North Carolina
Wages and Hours Act in underpaying workers and failing to reimburse
them for travel and visa expenses.

The women also filed charges of
unlawful discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, claiming that the gender-based job restrictions violated
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“Unfortunately, women seasonal
workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation by their employers,”
said Clermont Fraser, an attorney with the North Carolina Justice
Center. “Migrant workers face many difficulties for a variety of reasons
like language barriers and racism, but women have the additional hurdle
of sexism.”

The attorneys filing the case,
Landeros Covarrubias, et al. v. Capt. Charlie’s Seafood, Inc., are
Migdal and Lenora Lapidus of the ACLU Women's Rights Project; Fraser and
Carol Brooke of North Carolina Justice Center; and Katy L. Parker of
the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. Risha Foulkes of the ACLU
Women’s Rights Project is also working on the case.

A copy of the complaint can be found
at: www.aclu.org/womens-rights/covarrubias-v-captain-charlies-seafood-inc-complaint

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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