In 2005, H-2A farmworkers who had worked in Kentucky filed a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) about the conditions they had experienced on the job. The workers alleged that the tobacco grower illegally farmed out the workers to other growers who were not authorized to participate in the H-2A program. The workers further alleged that, after a period of heavy rains, the grower plowed under more than a third of her tobacco crop. The complaint stated that, because the grower now needed fewer laborers, she fired two of her H-2A workers on the pretext that they were doing poor work.
The fired workers were lucky enough to locate a legal services organization, which assisted them in filing a detailed eight-page complaint against the grower with the DOL. The workers complained about being illegally fired and about not being paid all the wages and reimbursements owed them under the H-2A program.
When the legal services lawyer periodically called the DOL to check on the status of the investigation, he was told inconsistent things, including that the investigator had gone out to conduct an immediate investigation and that the complaint had not yet been assigned to an investigator. In fact, the DOL waited nearly six months before sending an investigator to look into the allegations. During that six-month interval, the alleged legal violations became more than two years old — and the DOL has a policy that it will not investigate claims that are more than two years old. As a result of the DOL's failure to conduct a timely investigation, the workers' theoretical rights were effectively nullified.