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American Seafoods Settles Lawsuits

September 22, 1999

SEATTLE (AP) _ American Seafoods has agreed to a $1.25 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by 18 Vietnamese workers who accused the fishing-industry leader of racial discrimination, breach of contract and inhumane treatment.

The workers claimed the large fishing company created a hostile work environment, denied them training and promotional opportunities, subjected them to poor working conditions, demoted them and reduced their pay, and terminated those who sought time off due to illness.

The settlement was announced Wednesday at the Seattle offices of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which intervened in the case on the workers’ behalf.

American Seafoods also will start a new program of equal training and employment opportunities, conduct training on its discrimination policies and procedures, and provide quarterly compliance reports to the EEOC.

The settlement ``is a significant step in changing the way employers in the Seattle-Alaskan fishing industry review their largely minority processing crews,″ said Jeannette Leino, director of the EEOC’s Seattle office.

``I chose to settle this thing because I thought what the EEOC was proposing was basically a good business idea for American Seafoods,″ Mike Hyde, the company’s president, told The Seattle Times.

He did not immediately return a telephone call Wednesday from The Associated Press seeking comment.

EEOC involvement led to ``significant admissions″ about the company’s lack of adequate procedures for training and promoting the workers, ``as well as its complete disregard for the health and safety of the Vietnamese American workers,″ the agency said.

The 18 plaintiffs sued in state court after catching the flu while aboard one of the company’s ships, the Ocean Rover, off Alaska in February 1998. They said American Seafoods failed to provide them with treatment and adequate time off work for recovery.

The lawsuit was moved to U.S. District Court in April 1998, and the EEOC intervened in September of last year.

Hyde said the sick claims were not handled well and that ``if people get sick we have an obligation under the law to cover those sorts of things.″

``The monetary settlement results 100 percent from the people being sick,″ Hyde told the Times. ``It does not relate at all to the allegations of discrimination.″

At the time the plaintiffs got sick, American Seafoods was the largest fishing company in the United States, with 16 factory trawlers operating in the Bering Sea and waters off Russia and South America, and more than 2,000 fishermen, the EEOC said.

The company is still a dominant industry force, but recent congressional action has forced cutbacks in its fleet, the agency said.

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