MINNEAPOLIS (WJON News) - Almost 40 workers at a Foley-based vegetable farm have filed a federal lawsuit charging the farm with four counts of violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, claims Svihel Vegetable Farms and its owner John Svihel created a work environment of fear, psychological abuse, sleep deprivation, and seclusion that led to a cycle of forced labor and financial coercion.

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The complainants are mostly from Central America, working on the farm under H-2A Work Visas. They claim the farm used their inability to read or speak English to force them into 17-hour workdays, poor living conditions, limited access to fresh water and restroom breaks, and paychecks that did not reflect the total number of hours worked.

The almost 40 former workers claim physical and mental trauma as a result of their employment at the farm.

In a statement, officials with Svihel Vegetable Farms say:

The lawsuit filed against us today is wrong on the facts and the law, full of falsehoods, mistruths, and outright lies. The truth is simple: our farm has been a longstanding participant in the H-2A guest worker program... We meet - and in many areas exceed - the program's requirements, a reality documented by the inspections and oversight conducted by the federal and state agencies that administer the H-2A program. This lawsuit is baseless and should be understood as such.
The complaint has been filed, but a court date has not been set.


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