Tennessee Woman Accuses Farm of Favoring Foreigners

Jennifer Lawinski, FOX News, January 6, 2009

A Tennessee woman has filed complaints with three government agencies alleging that a local farm discriminated against her for being an American.

Sabrina Steele, 28, says that when she applied for work at Pope’s Plant Farm in Greenback, Tenn., a man she believed to be the farm’s owner discouraged her from taking the job so that he could hire foreign workers instead.

Critics say the case demonstrates that changes to the government’s H-2A foreign worker program will make it harder for Americans to find work.

In November 2007, Pope’s Plant Farm applied to the Department of Labor for 75 foreign worker visas. In the application, the farm said its workers would work 40 hours a week for $8.65 an hour.

Steele, a mother of two elementary-school-aged children who has worked on her family farm for years, says she was looking for supplemental income when was referred to the farm by the Tennessee Careers Center in December 2007.

When she went to the farm to apply, Steele said, Mike Pope offered her a job, but he told her she’d be working 80 hours a week and would be the only English-speaking American employee besides the office workers.

Steele says in her complaint that she later learned that the jobs that were available at the farm were in connection with the H-2A application filed by Pope.

“I also learned that in the clearance order, the work offered to temporary foreign workers was for 40 hours a week,” she wrote. “If the work offered to me had been the same as that offered to the temporary foreign (and apparently mostly male) workers, I would have accepted.”

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The group filed a complaint with the Department of Justice last week alleging that Steele was discriminated against because she is an American citizen. Steele also filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Tennessee Careers Center.

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Steele told FOXNews.com that she decided to pursue the complaints after hearing that dozens of other Americans had been discriminated against when looking for local work, and after she was rejected by other employers herself.

At one farm, she said, she “was actually denied even the opportunity to fill out an application or to come in. One of them was very, very degrading to me and basically didn’t like American workers and didn’t have much good to say about American workers in general.”

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Steele’s lawyer said the case highlights how the Bush administration’s recent changes to the H-2A foreign guest worker program—loosening regulations on recruiting American workers—hurt Americans and gave a good program a bad name.

“The evidence shows that U.S. workers were already having a hard time getting the work. It may be worse under the new regulations,” Fowler-Green said.

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