Litigation

In collaboration with legal advocacy organizations and private law firms, Farmworker Justice is actively engaged in litigation to advance employment rights of farmworkers and to remedy systemic labor abuses confronted by farmworkers. Cases that we are currently litigating include the following matters pending in federal courts throughout the country:

Smith v. Bulls-Hit Ranch and Farm (Middle District of Florida) - This is a class action against a Florida potato grower and farm labor contractor who employed destitute and drug dependent workers recruited from inner city homeless shelters and made to work under conditions of forced labor. This case seeks to impose joint liability on both the grower and the corrupt labor contractor that employed the workers, to recover lost wages and damages owed to the workers for violations of federal and state minimum wage laws, federal migrant labor laws, and federal labor trafficking laws.

Villalobos v. Calandri Sonrise Farms (Middle District of California) – Suit against California onion grower and a several labor contractors for wage theft and violations of federal and state migrant labor and housing laws. The suit includes claims on behalf of hundreds of workers employed by the grower and contractors over several years pursuant to a California law that allows private litigants to enforce state labor laws in the capacity of private attorneys general.

Ruiz v. Max Fernandez and Western Range Association (Eastern District of Washington) – Chilean H-2A workers were recruited and hired by a rancher association to perform sheepherding work for a Washington sheep rancher that failed to provide the workers with minimally required wages and working conditions, and forced the workers to work and live in harsh and coercive conditions. This case seeks damages from the rancher for federal labor trafficking violations and to hold both the rancher and the rancher association accountable for violations of obligations to the workers under the H-2A program.

Jimenez v. GLK Foods (Eastern District of Wisconsin) – This class action was instituted on behalf of hundreds of migrant workers from Mexico employed under temporary H-2B guestworker contracts by a major sauerkraut processor in Wisconsin. These workers were unlawfully fired in mid-contract, having hardly had enough work to cover travel expenses and recruitment fees that they incurred for taking the jobs. This case is a prime example of the abuses that migrant workers under the federal guestworker programs all too often encounter at the hands of unscrupulous employers.

Guajuardo v. Chip Berry (Southern District of Texas) – Suit on behalf of U.S. farmworkers who lost their jobs with melon packers in Texas when the farm labor contractor servicing the packers replaced the workers with H-2A workers from Mexico, as well as on behalf of many of the H-2A workers who in turn suffered wage theft and violations of their H-2A contracts. This case illustrates how the H-2A program can be manipulated by employers to exploit both H-2A workers and the U.S. workers that they are hired to replace.

United Farm Workers v. North Carolina Growers Association (4th Circuit Court of Appeals) – Farmworker Justice is part of a legal team seeking to overturn a North Carolina district court decision that erroneously prevented the Obama Department of Labor from reversing harmful changes to the H-2A program imposed at the end of the Bush administration. If successful, this appeal will lay ground work necessary to enable tens of thousands of H-2A workers to sue to recover millions of dollars in back wages that the workers should otherwise have been paid over the 2009 growing season.

Murillo v. Servicios Agrícolas Mex, Inc. (9th Circuit Court of Appeals) – This is an appeal of an Arizona district court decision that incorrectly precluded former U.S. employees of an H-2A employer from recovering damages when the employer ignored H-2A rules requiring it to contact and attempt to rehire the former U.S. employees at the beginning of a new growing season, before being allowed to employ foreign H-2A workers. Reversal of the court’s erroneous ruling in this case is essential to preventing agricultural employers from using the H-2A program as vehicle for wholesale displacement of willing and able U.S. farmworkers.