updated January 2017
Luna Duarte, et al. v. Daniel P. Mejia and Mejia Produce, LLC, et al., United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Civ. Act. No.: 1:16-CV-108
The Farmworker Rights Division of the Georgia Legal Services Program together with the Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina jointly represent 3 former H-2A workers who filed suit in North Carolina against Labor Contractor Daniel Mejia and his corporate entities. The suit alleges Fair Labor Standards Act violations, Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act violations, breach of contract and other claims stemming from H-2A contract work completed in both Georgia and North Carolina. The suit seeks to recover damages for unpaid wages and travel expenses, and for other illegal employment practices. In November 2016, Defendant Daniel Mejia filed for bankruptcy in Georgia, thereby creating an automatic stay of the District Court litigation. Our office and Legal Aid of North Carolina continue to pursue the claims within the bankruptcy forum.
Herrera-Velazquez, et al. v. Plantation Sweets, et al., United States District Court of the Southern District of Georgia, Civ. Act. No. 6:14-cv-127
We represent 49 former farm laborers in a suit against a South Georgia farm, its owner and a subsidiary entity, and its labor contractor and his entity. Our clients include local U.S. workers, H-2B forestry visa guestworkers, and H-2A agricultural visa guestworkers. The suit challenges the unlawfully low wages paid to all the workers. The suit also challenges the farm’s practice of spraying pesticides as workers labored in the same field, and its practice of importing H-2B workers for low-wage farm labor under the guise of high-paying forestry work. The suit was certified as a Fair Labor Standards Act collective action and class notice is underway. The suit is important as it challenges common practices and seeks to hold the fixed-site agricultural employer responsible for those practices even though the labor contracts were made in the name of the labor contractor, a forestry company, or in the name of a subsidiary entity. Defendants Ronald A. Collins, Plantation Sweets, Inc. and Vidalia Plantation, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in July 2016. The bankruptcy of Mr. Collins was converted to Chapter 7 and GLSP continues to pursue the claims.
Cases Resolved in 2016
Cruz-Vasquez, et al. v. Sanders Farms, Inc., et al., United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Civ. Act. No. 6:15-cv-48
We represented 9 H-2A workers who filed suit alleging violations of federal minimum wage law and breach of contract against Sanders Farms, Inc., Sanders Brothers, LLC and labor contractor Bartolo L. Hernandez. Another 6 H-2A workers joined the suit as Opt-In Plaintiffs. Before any responsive pleadings were filed, the parties reached a settlement in the amount of $39,500. The Sanders Defendants compensated Plaintiffs $30,000 in damages and paid $1,500 as attorneys’ fees. Plaintiffs received a total award of $7,500 from Defendant Hernandez who also paid $500 in court costs. Also, the Sanders Defendants promised to offer Plaintiffs and Opt-In Plaintiffs employment through the fall of 2018 should their operations require hand-harvest labor, and Defendant Hernandez promised that neither he nor certain close relatives would recruit, hire, or supervise any H-2A workers through the fall of 2020. The parties petitioned the Court for approval of the settlement agreement, as required under the Fair Labor Standards Act and related caselaw. The Court approved the settlement on July 21, 2016.
Ajiatas-Solval v. Cisco Produce, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Civ. Act. No. 1:14-cv-197
We represented 5 former H-2A workers who allege violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, against a former labor contractor and his corporate entity. The suit alleged a number of threats, recruitment, and wage violations meant to scare the workers into acceptance of substandard wages and working conditions. After being served, Defendant David Francisco-Baltazar filed for bankruptcy, triggering an automatic stay of the suit, but the Court subsequently lifted the stay. In Fall 2015, claims of contract violations against a blueberry grower and two corporate entities that allegedly participated in procuring the workers were settled for $10,000. The Court granted a joint petition for dismissal of the remaining claims and counterclaims on July 19, 2016.
EEOC v. J & R Baker Farms, LLC., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Civ. Act. No. 7:14-cv-136
We represented 19 U.S. workers who were the charging parties in this suit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as 16 similarly-situated class members. The suit alleged a pattern and practice of discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by the South Georgia farm located near Ellenton, Ga. We moved to intervene on our clients’ behalf and to add claims for violation of the Agricultural Worker Protection Act. After our motion to intervene was granted, the Defendants’ partial motion to dismiss was denied. Since then, the parties engaged in discovery and settlement discussions which resulted in all parties’ agreement upon a consent order that was approved by the Court in July 2016. Defendants will pay $205,000 to workers and have agreed to significant injunctive relief.
Cases Resolved in 2015
Franco-Hernandez v. Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Civ. Act. No. 7:14-cv-62
In a case co-counseled with the Southern Poverty Law Center, we represented 5 H-2A workers and vindicated the rights of 85 additional Opt-in Plaintiffs. The lawsuit alleged that Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable, Inc. and Hamilton Growers, Inc., along with their associated business entities and owner Kent Hamilton, paid farmworkers well below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, failed to pay overtime, and failed to pay workers for all hours worked. The plaintiffs also argued that defendants failed to pay workers from Mexico hundreds of dollars in legally mandated reimbursements for their travel to the work site. Discovery revealed that the farm hid its failure to reimburse workers for their travel costs in coming from their home countries to the work site by passing those payments to a supervisor rather than the workers. It also revealed that the company withheld overtime pay owed to U.S. and Mexican workers in their packing facilities, and did not credit field workers for all their hours worked. Claims were resolved after two mediations with Defendants, who agreed to pay a total of $485,000 and to offer employment for two seasons to Plaintiffs and Opt-In Plaintiffs who had worked under H-2A visas. Prior to mediation, 5 clients settled and received recoveries totaling $8,535. The payments were made in December 2015 and January 2016, and some litigants returned to the farm during the spring of 2016.
Cases Resolved in 2014
Bentley, et al. v. Baker, et al., United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Civ. Act. No. 7:12-cv-132
We represented 24 American workers terminated from employment in illegal preference for foreign workers the farm imported. We filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for race, national origin and reverse alienage discrimination in contract. The court granted in part Defendants’ motion to dismiss and a portion of our clients’ constructive discharge claims were dismissed, but our clients’ terms and conditions claims and wrongful discharge claims were litigated through discovery. See Bentley v. Baker, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84881 (M.D. Ga. June 18, 2013). The case was settled, during discovery, for a total of $27,550 and a promise of rehire. The farm’s conduct was covered by Dan Rather Reports prior to the suit.
Hernandez-Hernandez v. Hendrix Produce, Inc., Civ. Act. No. 6:13-cv-53 (S.D. Ga.)
We represented 14 H-2A workers, and vindicated the rights of 16 additional Opt-in Plaintiffs, who were employed by an onion corporation and an onion labor contractor. The workers suffered minimum wage violations in part through the forced return of checks meant to augment the workers’ wages. This is our second suit against this employer for substantially similar conduct. The case settled during discovery for $102,187, a promise of rehire, changed employment practices, and direct employment of the workers by the farm corporation. Hernandez v. Hendrix Produce, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4837 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 9, 2014). The settlement was reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Martinez-Garcia v. Perez, et al., United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Civ. Act. No. 6:13-cv-15
We represented 17 H-2A workers who were employed by an onion corporation and two onion labor contractors. The workers suffered minimum wage violations, in part through not receiving legally required reimbursements of travel expenses, and the workers were also subject to pay well below their contractually promised wage rate. In addition, many of the workers were subject to threats for raising wage complaints, including threats of deportation, and were exposed to pesticides without medical attention or treatment. We settled the suit against contractor Maria Perez for judgment in the amount of $36,592 with a payment plan. We obtained default judgment against contractor Dahlia Guerrero in the amount of $15,825.99 plus two additional judgments in the amounts of $8,349 and $6,200. Ms. Guerrero also recently began a payment plan.
Tomason v. Stanley, et al., United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Civ Act. No. 6:13-cv-42
We represented 4 American workers, and vindicated the rights of 25 additional Opt-in Plaintiffs, who were employed by an onion corporation, Stanley Farms, and its four managers. The workers suffered minimum wage violations and Agricultural Worker Protection Act violations. Most of the plaintiffs were also required to pay for tools, further reducing their wages and were subject to further deductions for items sold to them in the field. The workers were also subject to pay well below the wage rate offered to foreign workers also employed at the farm. We successfully struck a number of the farm’s defenses early on in the litigation. Tomason v. Stanley, 297 F.R.D. 541 (S.D. Ga. 2014). The plaintiffs also asserted violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for this discrimination in contract, alleging that the Defendants employed foreign workers on more favorable terms than the Plaintiffs. The suit was settled under the terms of a consent order for $92,500 and specific remedial actions including rehire, pay raises, recruitment changes, and safe transportation of U.S. workers. The suit was a front page story in the N.Y. Times.
Eleven U.S. Workers v. Heartland Harvesting
We represented 11 American workers wrongfully fired by watermelon harvester Heartland Harvesting. The group of African-American farmworkers had been hired to pack and grade watermelons, but they were fired after only a few days to a week of work. The workers were subjected to a different set of standards than Mexican workers, were sent from the advertised position in the packing shed to a job pulling weeds in cotton, and were repeatedly encouraged to quit. We helped the 11 workers file discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and eventually reached a pre-litigation agreement with the company, recovering $16,000 to resolve our clients’ Title VII discrimination claims, AWPA claims and back wages. Rather than promise rehire and reform its employment practices, Heartland Harvesting agreed to go out of business and dissolve itself within 75 days of the settlement.
Eleven H-2B Workers v. Swift Straw II, LLC
Jointly with Florida Legal Services, we represented 11 Guatemalan H-2B workers and 7 Mexican H-2B workers imported to rake and pack pine straw in South Georgia and North Florida, respectively. Our clients alleged minimum wage violations, underpayment of contract wages, violations of overtime laws and violations of the Agricultural Worker Protection Act. The case settled prior to filing suit for $21,230.39, for the 11 Guatemalan workers who worked in Georgia, plus an additional amount for the Mexican workers who worked in Florida.
Cases Resolved in 2013
Martinez-Garcia v. Plantation Sweets., Inc., Civ. Act. No. 6:13-cv-43 (S.D. Ga.)
We represented the same 17 H-2A workers mentioned above in a parallel suit filed against the agricultural enterprise and its owner, Ronald Collins. We alleged that the onion farming corporation and its principal were jointly liable for the wage violations our clients suffered. The suit was settled for $25,200 and Defendants’ promise to employ workers directly, not through labor contractors, and to rehire the Plaintiffs.
Ojeda-Sanchez, et al. v. Bland Farms, LLC, et al., United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Case No. 11-13835
We represented 80 Plaintiffs and Opt-in Plaintiffs in a suit which was tried to judgment in February of 2011 in the Southern District of Georgia (Civ. Act. No. 08-cv-96). The suit alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Plaintiffs’ employment contracts. During the case the Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order barring the Defendants and their supervisors from communicating with the Plaintiffs or potential class members except through a writing provided 10 days in advance to Plaintiffs’ counsel. 600 F. Supp. 2d 1373 (S.D. Ga. 2009). The Court also granted Plaintiffs’ motion for certification of a collective action. The Court dismissed the individual defendants at summary judgment and set the claims against the corporate defendant for trial before an advisory jury. 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84752 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 18, 2010). Thirteen Plaintiffs and opt-in Plaintiffs returned for the six-day trial. The judge entered judgment for Plaintiffs in the amount of $13,538 in June 2011. Because Plaintiffs believe the judge wrongly awarded Defendant a credit against wages and misapplied the Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery proof standard, the case was appealed in August 2011. The case was argued before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2012. The United States Department of Labor and the National Employment Law Project filed amicus briefs in support of Plaintiffs’ appeal and the Department of Labor argued with Plaintiffs in July. The Eleventh Circuit panel, with one judged dissenting, reversed the district court on one ground, but affirmed on others. See Ojeda-Sanchez v. Bland Farms, LLC, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 24586 (11th Cir. Nov. 29, 2012). Plaintiffs obtained attorney’s fees in the amount of $90,288, which were used to fund a new staff attorney position.
Cases Resolved in 2012
Alcantara-Montiel, et al., v. R & H Farms, Inc., et al., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta Division, Case No. 11-CV-58
We represented 25 Plaintiffs and Opt-In Plaintiffs who alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, their H-2A contracts and tort law for Defendant’s failure to pay them the required minimum wage for all hours worked by requiring Plaintiffs to kick back a portion of their wages to the field supervisor each week and by failing to reimburse their pre-employment expenses. This case was filed in May 2011 and discovery started in October. The individual Defendant declared bankruptcy and we filed a complaint in bankruptcy court to have this debt declared nondischargeable as a willful and malicious injury. The case settled for $25,000, to be paid through the farmer’s personal bankruptcy plan. We also obtained a default judgment against the supervisor.
EEOC v. Hamilton Growers, Inc. d/b/a Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable, Inc., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta Division, Case No. 11-CV-134
We represented 17 charging parties and 32 class members in this EEOC class action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Our clients are American workers terminated from employment in illegal preference for Mexican H-2A workers. Our clients held race and national origin claims under Title VII, reverse alienage claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and claims for violations of the Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The EEOC confirmed our clients’ allegations of discrimination with a cause determination in July 2011. The EEOC filed suit on September 29, 2011 in the Middle District of Georgia, and we intervened. After a second round of mediation, the suit settled for $500,000 and the promise of significant affirmative changes by the employer, including a busing system for U.S. workers. The suit has received local and national media attention.
Guijosa-Silva v. Wendell Roberson Farms, et al., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta Division, Case No. 7:10-CV-17
This suit, filed March 12, 2010, alleged that the farm intentionally discriminated against seventeen participants in a prior FLSA lawsuit and sought to remove them from their longtime employment in favor of non-litigants, many of whom lacked work authorization. Discovery closed in January 2011. We filed a motion for summary judgment on whether the individual Defendants were employers under the FLSA and the employment contracts. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment claiming they had a legitimate non-retaliatory reason for not rehiring the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs prevailed at summary judgment, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33358 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 13, 2012), and the case proceeded to trial in August 2012. Sixteen Plaintiffs came from Mexico to testify at the four-day trial in Valdosta, Georgia. The jury ruled against Plaintiffs and the court entered judgment for the Defendants. A motion for new trial was denied.
Cases Resolved in 2011
Reyes-Fuentes, et al. v. Shannon Produce Farm, Inc., et al., United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia, Statesboro Division, Case No. 08-CV-059
We represented 14 Plaintiffs who allege that Defendants Shannon Produce Farm, a successor corporation, its owners, and its principal manager retaliated against the Plaintiffs in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act for their participation in Morales-Arcadio v. Shannon Produce Farm, a FLSA unpaid wage case. After the Morales-Arcadio case was filed, Plaintiffs applied to return to work in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and were denied employment. Instead of hiring the Plaintiffs, Defendants hired undocumented workers and H-2A workers from other areas of Mexico who had not sued them. The case was filed in July 2008. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss which was denied by the Court. 671 F. Supp. 2d 1365 (S.D. Ga. 2009). The Defendants rehired seven Plaintiffs in the Fall 2010 grape harvest, however the Defendant Shannon Vineyards then filed suit against the Plaintiffs alleging that garnishments Plaintiffs had served to collect on sums owed for their Morales-Arcadio judgment were wrongful. Two of the Defendants have also filed bankruptcy causing Plaintiffs to appear in the bankruptcy proceedings and to file complaints seeking nondischargeable treatment for the damages arising from the Defendants’ intentionally discriminatory acts. The parties agreed to settle the claims for $358,977.20 and an agreement by Defendants that the judgment is non-dischargeable in bankruptcy pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(6). The settlement was approved by the district court and entered as a consent judgment. The bankruptcies were dismissed and Plaintiffs are now seeking to collect on their judgments.
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Cases Resolved in 2010
Arriaga-Zacarias, et al. v. Lewis Taylor Farms, Inc. et al., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Valdosta Division, Case No. 7:08-CV-32
We represented 85 Plaintiffs Opt-in Plaintiffs, all migrant agricultural workers from Mexico, who filed suit against their H-2A employer for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage provisions and for violations of their H-2A contract wage and benefit promises. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the suit arguing Plaintiffs failed to meet Twombly standards and that a shorter statute of limitations applied to the contract claims. Defendants also opposed Plaintiffs’ collective action certification by submitting evidence of wage payments that Plaintiffs contend are false. The court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss and certified a collective action with notice to other workers. 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98064 (Dec. 4, 2008). The Defendants filed a motion to reconsider based on statements made in a preamble to recently published regulations, 73 Fed. Reg. 77149 (Dec. 18, 2008), and that motion was also denied. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27629 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 31, 2009). Plaintiffs filed four motions to compel responses to third-party subpoenas and requests for production all of which were granted by the Court at a July 2009 discovery conference. This case was mediated in November 2009 and a settlement was approved by the Court in March of 2010. Under the terms of the settlement the Defendants paid $165,000, offered rehire to the Plaintiffs for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and made a number of changes to their pay practices.
Garcia-Mancha v. Hendrix Produce, Inc., United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia, Statesboro Division, Case No. 6:10-cv-36
We represented 26 Mexican nationals recruited by the Defendants under the H-2A visa program. The complaint, filed April 16, 2010, alleged intentional violations of the FLSA minimum wage and of Plaintiffs’ contract rights and sought to hold the fixed-situs employers, Hendrix Produce and R.E. Hendrix, liable for the actions of the farm labor contractors in their employ. The Hendrix Defendants, prior to discovery, filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that they were not joint employers. Plaintiffs opposed the motion but the case settled before decision by the Court for a total of $58,000 in back wages and $3,000 in attorney’s fees. The settlement requires the Defendants to rehire the Plaintiffs and to make changes to their labor camp housing to provide adequate space and bedding for all workers.
Rojo-Andablo v. Robert Dasher d/b/a Dasher Harvesting, United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia, Statesboro Division, Case No. 6:09-CV-58
We represented 45 Mexican nationals recruited by Defendant under the H-2A visa program. The complaint was filed on August 20th, 2009 and alleged intentional violations of the FLSA minimum wage and Plaintiffs’ contract rights. Suit was filed after a long pre-filing settlement period in which Defendants ultimately failed to respond to Plaintiffs’ settlement demand. Plaintiffs amended the complaint to assert retaliation claims because the farm failed to rehire any Plaintiffs for the fall onion planting season. The Court granted motions to compel Defendant’s discovery responses and entered a consent order governing Defendant’s hiring practices for the Spring 2010 season. The case settled for $121,000 of which $19,000 was attorney’s fees, significantly more than had Defendant agreed to settle prior to the lawsuit. The terms of the consent order required the Defendant to take corrective action and to rehire the Plaintiffs for the next four seasons.
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Cases Resolved in 2009
Zamora-Vasquez et al. v. Watkins, et al., United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia, Dublin Division, Case No. 3:08-cv-59
We represented 38 Plaintiffs and Opt-in Plaintiffs in this suit alleging unpaid minimum wages and breach of contract against two Georgia farmers who employed our clients through crewleader Michel Germain under the terms of an H-2A job order obtained by Michel Germain’s corporation Two Brothers Farm, Inc. Plaintiffs settled with Defendant Brian Watkins for $8,330 and Defendant Richard Minor for $20,750. Both settlements were pursuant to the terms of consent orders.
Cases Resolved in 2008
Antonio-Candelaria, et al., v. Gibbs Patrick Farms, Inc., et al., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Albany Division, Case No. 06-CV-39
We represented 30 Plaintiffs and 13 Opt-In Plaintiffs in a suit filed in March 2006. Plaintiffs asserted violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and breach of their H-2A contracts for what Plaintiffs allege was systematic hours-shorting that matched their piece rate pay to their hours rather than augmenting pay where their piece rate earnings fell below the hourly minimum. This was our second suit against this farm for similar conduct. In September ‘06 the court granted Plaintiffs’ motion to certify a FLSA collective action. In March of 2008, the Court issued an unfavorable statute of limitations decision that substantially narrowed the case. Following that decision the parties mediated the case in April of 2008 and it settled for $65,000.
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Angeles-Hernandez, et al. v. Two Brothers Farm, Inc., et al., United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, Case No. 08-CV-20398
We represented 6 Plaintiffs and 25 Opt-in Plaintiffs who alleged that farm labor contractor Michel Germain violated their rights in the 2006 and 2007 green bean harvests by failing to pay the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage or the contractually promised H-2A Adverse Effect Wage Rate. The case is brought as a collective action and was filed in February 2008. Defendants’ motion to dismiss, claiming that the crew leader was not jointly liable along with his corporation, was denied by the Court. 579 F. Supp. 2d 1379 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 26, 2008). The case settled for $56,000 under the terms of a consent order that requires changes to Defendants’ payroll practices.
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Morales-Arcadio, et al., v. Shannon Produce Farms, Inc., et. al., United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia, Statesboro Division, Case No. 05-CV-062
We represented 80 Plaintiffs and Opt-In Plaintiffs in a suit filed in July 2005. Plaintiffs asserted violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, breach of their H-2A contracts, fraud, and conversion. Plaintiffs allege that the farm failed to regularly pay them, and prepared false or back-dated checks to hide the late payments and the non-payments. Plaintiffs also allege that the farm required them to endorse blank checks. The court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss several years of Plaintiffs’ contract counts and granted Plaintiffs preliminary certification of a FLSA collective action. Morales-Arcadio v. Shannon Produce Farms, Inc., No. 605CV062 (S.D. Ga.) (Jan. 12, 2006 Order denying Defendants’ partial motion to dismiss) and (Feb. 7, 2006 Order granting Plaintiffs’ motion for conditional certification of a collective action). The court struck Defendants attempt to serve a Rule 68 offer of judgment during the pendency of the FLSA collective action opt-in period. 237 F.R.D. 700 (S.D. Ga. 2006). The court also granted Plaintiffs’ motion to file a second amended complaint, joining fifty-nine workers’ contract claims to the FLSA suit. The court denied Defendants’ attempts to serve all opt-in plaintiffs with discovery and granted Plaintiffs’ motions to compel further discovery responses and an inspection of all of the farm’s computer systems. This past summer the Court decided cross summary judgment motions awarding Plaintiffs’ liability on two counts and leaving three additional counts to proceed to trial. 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51950 (S.D. Ga. July 18, 2007). The parties recently settled the suit through consent judgments. Plaintiffs obtained $222,500 for violations of the federal minimum wage and $324,264 in judgments for violation of their H-2A contracts. Defendants failed to make the last two payments on the FLSA judgments and one of the Defendants filed bankruptcy. Plaintiffs garnished Defendants’ clients to collect a portion of the unpaid contract judgment. The parties have negotiated a payment plan on the outstanding judgments and are waiting for approval by the bankruptcy court.
Vergara-Perdomo et al. v. Wendell Roberson Farms, Inc., et al., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Albany Division, Case No. 04-CV-77-4 (Second Contempt)
We represented 20 workers in this contempt proceeding seeking to return to the farm to continue their seasonal pattern of employment after they brought and settled a suit against the farm for minimum wage and contract wage violations. Plaintiffs conducted a two-day contempt hearing before the Court and Defendants were found in contempt of court with Plaintiffs awarded $44,000 in lost wage damages, rehire for the coming season, and attorney’s fees. Some Plaintiffs returned to work under the terms of the contempt order. We continue to monitor the Defendants’ conduct and completed a court-ordered mediation in July of 2008.
Cases Resolved in 2007
Mitchell v. Williamson Produce, Inc., United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, Case No. 1:07-CV-1195
This was a suit brought by 4 men recruited in homeless shelters across the southeast. We represented three of the plaintiffs and the Southern Poverty Law Center represented the fourth. The Plaintiffs alleged violations of their rights under the FLSA minimum wage and under the Agricultural Worker Protection Act. The suit settled for $18,000.
17 Workers v. N & R Services of Central Florida, Inc., pre-filing
We represented 17 workers hired by Mike Nobles of labor recruiter “H-2A USA” to work harvesting vegetables in central Georgia. We alleged violations of the minimum wage due to a failure to reimburse workers costs to come. We also alleged violations of the contractual promise to reimburse travel expenses. The potential defendants paid the amount owed, $19,000, in pre-filing negotiations.
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Verdugo-Lopez, et al., v. Del Monte Fresh Produce (Southeast), Inc., et al., United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, Case No. 06-21017
We represented 7 Plaintiffs in a suit filed in April 2006. Plaintiffs asserted violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and breach of their H-2A contracts. They also alleged that they were fired in retaliation for complaining about their wages and working conditions, and for consulting with a legal services attorney. Plaintiffs sought to hold the grower/packer responsible for the actions of its labor contractor whose license was suspended and who used his 20-year-old daughter as a front. After the Court denied Defendants’ Motion to Change Venue to the Southern District of Georgia and indicated it would quash Defendants deposition notice requiring Plaintiffs to travel to Miami, Defendants settled paying Plaintiffs $75,000.
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Ojeda-Ojeda, et al., v. Booth Farms, L.P., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Chief Admin. Hearing Officer, Case No. 05B00028
We represented 17 Puerto Rican farmworkers who were recruited in Puerto Rico under the terms of an H-2A job order. Upon arriving in Georgia, the farm refused to provide them preferred positions and ultimately fired all of them with the assistance of a deputy sheriff. Plaintiffs asserted claims for citizenship discrimination based on the farm’s employment of more than 50 H-2A workers from Mexico at the time it fired the Puerto Rican Plaintiffs. Both sides moved for summary judgment, both of which were denied. However, the Court declined to enforce the statutorily mandated citizenship preference of the Immigration and Nationalities Act upon which the H-2A worker importation and Plaintiffs’ employment contract was based and dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which summarily affirmed the decision ruling that it was not discrimination to prefer foreign workers over domestic workers for a performance based reason.
Cases Resolved in 2006
Galaviz-Cedillo, et al. v. Georgia Cantaloupe Co., Inc., et al., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Macon Division, Case No. 05-CV-085
We represented 9 Plaintiff and 15 Opt-in Plaintiff H-2A migrant farmworkers from Mexico who worked on the Defendants’ melon farm in Georgia. The Plaintiffs sued for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and of their H-2A contracts. The suit alleged that the farm failed to make, keep, or record hours worked and failed to supplement piece rate earnings when they fell below an average of $5.15 per hour. Plaintiffs also alleged that the farm’s crewleader sold beer to workers in the fields and deducted these costs from their weekly pay in violation of the FLSA. The court certified Plaintiffs’ collective action and ordered distribution of notice to potential opt-in class members in Mexico. The case settled by means of a consent order under which the Defendants agreed to change their employment practices, heavily restrict or remove an abusive crewleader, and pay the Plaintiffs $38,750. Seventeen Plaintiffs returned in May of 2006 to work for the Defendants.
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Hernandez-Hernandez, et al. v. Bass Produce, Inc., et al, United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Albany Division, Case No. 03-CV-47-2
We represented 30 H-2A migrant farmworkers recruited in Mexico by Defendants. Claims included failure to pay minimum wage by not reimbursing costs incurred for the benefit of the employer, failure to pay for all hours worked, failure to provide benefits promised under the contract, and fraud in the inducement to contract. We received judgment against one Defendant, a second Defendant defaulted, and we settled with the third Defendant. Plaintiffs obtained a protective order after unsuccessful settlement discussions when the one Defendant tried to force the Mexican farmworkers to return to Albany, Georgia for deposition. Plaintiffs ultimately received default judgment in the amount of $38,494.97 against Bass Produce, Inc. by order of February 16, 2006.
Vergara-Perdomo et al. v. Wendell Roberson Farms, Inc., et al., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Albany Division, Case No. 04-CV-77-4 (Contempt)
We returned to Court seeking a contempt finding after Defendants violated the terms of the consent order entered in 2005 (see below for cases resolved in 2005). Defendants had re-employed the Plaintiffs, as required, but had then sub-contracted the majority of their farm labor to a crewleader with a crew of illegal alien workers. Defendants paid the illegal crew substandard wages and the crewleader took illegal deductions from the crew. Because that crew had not sued Defendants and because they were far cheaper than Plaintiffs, Defendants highly preferred them, leaving Plaintiffs with few hours and none of the preferred farm positions. At a hearing on Plaintiffs’ motion for an order to show cause, Judge Sands ruled from the bench and granted Plaintiffs’ motion allowing Plaintiffs discovery, subpoena, and deposition powers and granting a hearing in thirty days on the contempt motion. Defendants subsequently settled with Plaintiffs and dismissed the crew of illegal workers. They also agreed to a new consent order that requires Defendants to not use crewleaders for hiring, to use the Department of Homeland Security’s electronic employment verification system, and to return some Plaintiffs to preferred hourly positions. Defendants also paid sanctions for their contempt, including $40,000 in damages to Plaintiffs.
Frias-Vasquez v. Leticia Salazar, Superior Court for Telfair County, Georgia, Civ. Act. No. 05-CV-138
We represented 3 H-2A migrant farmworkers in a case co-counseled with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The suit alleged that crewleader Leticia Salazar had failed to pay the minimum wage, had failed to pay the higher contract wage rate, and had violated the H-2A contract by terminating one plaintiff for being pregnant. The suit was settled after discovery for $4,700.
Cases Resolved in 2005
Santos, et al., v. Wendell Roberson Farms, Inc., U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Chief Admin. Hearing Officer, Case No. 05B00024
We represented 12 Puerto Rican farmworkers who were recruited in Puerto Rico and traveled to Georgia to work for a large Georgia grower. Upon arriving in Georgia, despite the H-2A program’s requirements that U.S. workers be preferred for employment wherever possible, the grower refused to house them, told them they were unwelcome, and fired them after only three days. We filed suit for citizenship-discrimination charges with the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer in March 2005, based on the farm’s employment of H-2A workers from Mexico above the U.S. citizen Puerto Rican Plaintiffs. This case was settled in November 2005 for $24,000.
Ceja-Martinez, et al. v. L.G. Herndon, Jr. Farms, Inc., et al., Superior Court for Toombs County, Georgia, Case No. 03-CV-267
We represented 3 Plaintiffs and 3 Opt-In Plaintiffs in a Fair Labor Standards Act case. The case sought reimbursement of expenses incurred for the benefit of the employer in violation of the FLSA minimum wage provision. The case also sought damages for conversion (forced return of payroll checks), fraud, and breach of contract. The case was settled for $12,500.
Vergara-Perdomo et al. v. Wendell Roberson Farms, Inc., et al., United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Albany Division, Case No. 04-CV-77-4
We represented 51 H-2A migrant farmworkers recruited in Mexico by Defendants. Many of the farmworkers had a long employment history with Defendants. The complaint alleged Defendants engaged in a pattern and practice of systematically violating the farmworkers’ employment contract and federal employment laws to illegally reduce the workers’ pay. Plaintiffs asserted claims for 1998 through 2004 under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Georgia contract law. The suit was certified as a collective action under the FLSA and notice was distributed in Mexico. Forty-one Opt‑In Plaintiffs joined the 10 original Plaintiffs. The case was mediated and settled for $150,000 and entry of a consent order against Defendants which obligated Defendants to change their payroll practices and obligated Defendants to re-employ the Plaintiffs in the 2005-2006 season. Twenty-two Plaintiffs returned from Mexico to work at the farm. Because the farm violated several terms of the consent order, 13 Plaintiffs returned to Court in December 2005. See the separate discussion above of the contempt case settled in 2006.
Cervantes-Mejía, et al., v. Baker Farms, LLC, United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Thomasville Division, 05-CV-18
We representeded six (6) H-2A migrant farmworkers, recruited in Mexico, against a south Georgia vegetable farm. We filed claims on behalf of our clients for four seasons in 2003 and 2004. This suit alleged violations of the minimum wage law for the farm’s failure to reimburse the Plaintiffs’ expenses to come work, unpaid hours, and violations of guarantees in the contract. We settled this case for $10,000, more than 75% of their total damages, before responsive pleadings were filed.