EEOC v. Global Horizons, Inc., 915 F.3d 631 (9th Cir. 2019)

The Washington state fruit growers in this case experienced labor shortages and as a result entered into agreements with Global Horizons (a labor contractor) to obtain temporary workers from Thailand to work in their orchards under the H-2A guest worker program. After two of the Thai workers filed discrimination charges with the EEOC, the agency initiated this litigation, claiming the growers and Global Horizons subjected the Thai workers to poor working conditions, substandard living conditions and unsafe transportation based on their race and national origin. After Global Horizons became financially insolvent, the following legal question remained: To what extent were the growers joint employers of the Thai workers for purposes of Title VII liability? The district court dismissed all Title VII charges against the growers that did not involve “orchard-related matters.” In this appeal proceeding, however, the Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of claims regarding “non-orchard-related matters” and held the district court should have applied the “common-law agency test” for determining joint employer status under Title VII. Further, the Court held that at least one of the growers allegedly knew or should have known about the discrimination and had “ultimate control over [even non-orchard-related matters] and thus could have taken corrective action to stop the discrimination.”