HONOLULU (AP) — A federal judge in Hawaii says she won't consider approving $2.4 million in settlements for hundreds of Thai farm workers until the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission holds a news conference clarifying that the agreements are still subject to court approval.
U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi is ordering the agency to provide proof of the news conference by Friday. She said in her order issued last week that the EEOC didn't follow rules when it filed the proposed agreements.
The EEOC is planning a news conference in Honolulu on Friday to comply with the order.
Kobayashi's order warns that if the EEOC doesn't comply, the judge may deny the requests to approve the settlements and reset all claims for trial.
The EEOC "ignored the possibility that this court could reject one or more of the consent decrees," Kobayashi's order said. "The EEOC's disregard of the applicable rules and this court's express instructions is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
The agency apologized for its error in a court filing.
Anna Park, a regional attorney for the agency in Los Angeles, said Thursday that it was procedural oversight. "It was clearly a miscommunication on our end. We hope we can now move on for the judge to consider the decrees in the interest of the claimants in the case," she said.
The agency announced in June that it had reached settlement agreements with four Hawaii farms over allegations that they exploited workers.
EEOC attorneys disregarded the judge's instructions on filing the proposed agreements, "apparently so that EEOC officials could announce, during a previously scheduled press conference, that consent decrees had been 'filed' in this case," Kobayashi's order said.
The EEOC should have waited to do so until she approved the settlements, Kobayashi said. The EEOC gave the misleading impression the settlements were final, according to her order.
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