The June 2002 settlement paid out $3.2 million to migrant workers Wednesday.

MEXICO CITY (AP) – DeCoster Egg Farms has paid a $3.2 million settlement benefiting migrant workers who sued the Maine operation in 1998, charging racial discrimination in housing and working conditions, the Mexican Foreign Relations Department reported Sunday.

The egg farm near Turner, Maine, gained a reputation in the 1980s and 1990s as one of the nation’s most abusive workplaces.

The payment was made Wednesday, the Foreign Relations Department announced in a written statement. The statement said the lawsuit against DeCoster was related to 900 Mexicans but did not explain how the money would be disbursed.

Foreign Relations officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

When the settlement was announced in June 2002, Mexican authorities said it would be advertised to class members through Mexico’s consular network and in Spanish- and English-language media. The settlement was to cover all Hispanic workers, not just Mexicans.

Between 1,400 and 1,500 Hispanics are believed to have worked at DeCoster during the period covered by the settlement, 1988 through June 2002.

The lawsuit alleged that several Mexican families were crowded into substandard single-family dwellings in the farm’s trailer park, while white families each got their own, better-equipped dwellings.

The plaintiffs also said that Mexicans were physically barred from contacting people off the farm grounds and were not paid wages they were promised as an inducement to accept jobs.

When the settlement was announced in June 2002, plaintiffs praised DeCoster for improvements made since the suit was filed and hailed the agreement as a milestone in a new era of cooperation between management and labor.

Ben Guiliani, executive director of the Maine Migrant Workers Advocate Group, said that with the improvements, housing conditions at DeCoster could serve as a model for other farms.

The U.S. government fined DeCoster Egg Farm $3.6 million in July 1996 after an investigation revealed conditions in work areas and worker housing that labor officials called some of the worst they had seen.

That case prompted some supermarket chains to boycott DeCoster eggs.

AP-ES-02-15-04 1616EST

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