Allegations of labor abuses dogged Mississippi plant years before immigration raids

Last August, Illinois-based poultry supplier Koch Foods settled a multi-year lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of more than 100 workers at the Morton, Mississippi, plant over claims the company knew – or should have known – of sexual and physical assaults against its Hispanic workers.

Mark Kaminsky, chief operating officer at Koch, said the company admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement and maintains, after fighting the matter in court for more than eight years, that all the allegations contained in the lawsuit are false.

The workers’ complaints spanned 2004 to 2008, when the plant employed more than 500 people. They alleged that a manager would grope women from behind while they were working, punch employees and throw chicken parts at them. Workers also alleged that supervisors coerced payments from them for everything from medical leave and promotions to bathroom breaks.

Privately held Koch Foods, run by billionaire Joseph Grendys, in court filings called the claims of abuse and harassment “baffling” and “outrageous.” Kaminsky said a third-party review of 9 months of 24-hour video surveillance at the plant found “absolutely no evidence” of their veracity. Koch said the plaintiffs made uncorroborated claims against the company as a means to obtain U.S. visas for crime victims who collaborate with U.S. authorities that would allow them to stay legally in the United States.

The company settled the allegations last year by paying $3.75 million and entering a three-year consent decree to prevent future violations. It agreed to implement new policies such as creating a 24-hour complaint hotline and publicly posting anti-discrimination policies, according to the EEOC.

Some workers at the Mississippi plant who lacked legal immigration status alleged in court documents that supervisors threatened to turn them in to authorities if they spoke out about their concerns.

Former federal officials and immigration attorneys said mass deportation operations like the ones conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Wednesday in Mississippi can have a chilling effect on future labor complaints.

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