Litigation

Farmworker Justice, since its inception in 1981, has filed lawsuits on behalf of farmworkers and their organizations, often in collaboration with other advocates and attorneys to maximize impact.  Some of the cases address systemic labor abuses committed by agricultural employers and seek to establish a precedent or pattern that will affect many farmworkers and employers around the country.  Many of our cases are lawsuits against  federal government agencies for adopting illegal policies that harm farmworkers and their family members.  These cases involve immigration, labor rights, the H-2A agricultural guestworker program, occupational safety standards, and pesticide safety standards.  We also support cases brought in state courts and join in on amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court and courts of appeals to educate judges about farmworkers and the challenges they experience.  Our litigation docket of recent cases is available here.

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) v. Wheeler 899 F.3d 814, 816 (9th Cir. 2018); Pesticide Action Network North America v. Environmental Protection Agency, 798 F.3d 809 (9th Cir. 2015)(lawsuit against EPA’s use of chlorpyrifos.)

Farmworker Justice is a plaintiff in a complex, long-running series of administrative complaints and federal lawsuits that seek to require the EPA to ban agricultural use of the pesticide chloryprifos, which is already banned for household uses. Chlorpyrifos and has been linked to neurodevelopmental damage in children. A coalition of organizations, including Farmworker Justice, filed a petition with the EPA in 2007 to ban chlorpyrifos.  Due to the EPA’s inaction, in 2015 we obtained from the U.S. Court of Appeals a writ of mandamus ordering the EPA to respond to the petition on chloryprifos by March 31, 2017.   The EPA obtained substantial scientific evidence and had said it would ban chlorpyrifos by that time, but did not do so before President Obama left office in January.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on March 29, 2017, decided he would not ban chlorpyrifos, despite his lack of evidence for this decision, and would continue to consider the issue through 2022.  Through a series of lawsuits and various decisions in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the EPA was eventually ordered to make a full and fair decision on the petition and on administrative objections that our coalition had filed against the EPA’s refusal to ban the pesticide.  (The cases include case No. 17-71636, LULAC v. Pruitt (now Wheeler) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and  No. 14-72794.  On July 18, 2019, the EPA issued a decision refusing a ban.  The lawsuit, filed on August 7, 2019, against this latest decision is pending.  Lead counsel is Earthjustice.

Peri & Sons Farms, Inc. v. Acosta, No. 1:19-cv-00034-TJK (D.D.C. 2019), appeal filed by plaintiffs in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (Intervention to defend against grower lawsuit on H-2A program wage regulations.)

On January 7, the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) and its member Peri & Sons Farms, Inc., filed a lawsuit in D.C. federal court against the Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta.  NCAE sought to invalidate the Department of Labor (DOL)’s longstanding methodology for setting wage rates under the H-2A temporary foreign agricultural worker program.  The plaintiffs also requested a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to reduce the wage rates to the 2018 levels by stopping the implementation of the higher 2019 wage rates, which took effect on January 9, 2019.  The plaintiffs said that the one-year wage freeze could reduce employers’ wage costs – and reduce farmworkers’ wages – by $123 million.

The United Farm Workers (UFW), represented by Farmworker Justice and Covington & Burling LLP, and other groups requested and received permission to intervene in the lawsuit to oppose the growers’ legal claims and protect farmworkers’ wages.  The Department of Labor filed a brief opposing the growers’ legal claims.  On March 18, 2019 U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly (a Trump appointee) issued a decision denying the motion for preliminary injunction and dismissing the case in its entirety.  The judge ruled that the six-year statute of limitations barred the lawsuit because the challenged regulation was issued in 2010.  The plaintiff grower has appealed.

La Clinica de La Raza et al. v. Trump, Case No. 3:19-cv-4980 (N.D. Calif. filed 08/16/19)(lawsuit against Trump “public charge” immigration policy).

Farmworker Justice is one of ten plaintiffs suing the Trump Administration to stop the Department of Homeland Security from implementing its new immigration regulation regarding the “public charge” policy.  The new policy, set to take effect October 15, would prevent many low-income people from being granted immigration status based on the supposed likelihood that they would become a “public charge,” under a harsh new definition of that term. The plaintiff organizations would be harmed in carrying out their mission to serve affected individuals.  Several states’ attorneys general also filed a lawsuit.  The attorneys for FJ and other plaintiffs include the National Immigration Law Center, Western Center on Law and Poverty, National Health Law Program and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles.  Farmworker Justice submitted extensive comments to the DHS opposing the policy when it was proposed. The judge held a hearing on October 2 on the motion for preliminary injunction and asked for additional information about the alleged need for a nation-wide injunction.  Plaintiffs’ counsel emphasized that Farmworker Justice serves farmworkers throughout the nation.

Farmworker Justice v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Case no. 1:19-cv-01946 (D.D.C. filed 06/28/19)(Freedom of Information Act case).

Farmworker Justice is the plaintiff and co-counsel with Public Citizen in this action against the USDA for refusing to release documents in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.  The documents related to the Trump Administration’s inter-agency working group on the H-2A agricultural guestworker program.  The documents are relevant to the Trump Administration’s proposed changes to the H-2A program regulations, which were published as a proposed rule in July 2019 with a comment period ending September 24, 2019.  The USDA agreed to settle the case and began releasing documents.

Jose Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Bros. Dairy, Inc. Case No. 96267-7 (Wash. 2019)(Challenge to state overtime law excluding farmworkers)

Farmworker Justice and Prof. Marc Linder submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the claim that Washington State law violates farmworkers’ state constitutional rights by excluding them from overtime pay.  The amicus brief focuses on the racially discriminatory motive in the origins of the exclusion of farmworkers from labor-protective legislation. 

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al v. Regents of the University of California, Case No. 18-15068 (U.S. 2019)(Legality of DACA Program)

Farmworker Justice is an amicus curiae with other civil rights and immigrants rights organizations in the case challenging the Trump Administration’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, under which the Obama Administration granted relief from deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.   This amicus brief was drafted by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law and the Venable law firm. 

Kansas v. Garcia, Case No. 17-834 (U.S. 2019)(immigrant workers’ rights).

Farmworker Justice is an amicus curiae with the National Immigration Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations.  The amicus brief supports the defendants, who are immigrant who were charged with state crimes based in part on information provided to their employers on federal form I-9.  The brief supports their argument that the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) preempts states from using information provided on a federal Form I-9 in such a prosecution.

Comcast v. National Association of African American-Owned Media and Entertainment Studios Networks, Inc., Case No. 18 -1171 (U.S. 2019)(Civil rights claim burden of proof)

Farmworker Justice is an amicus curiae with other civil rights organizations in a case regarding proof needed to allege and prove a violation of racial discrimination in the making and enforcing of contracts in violation of Section 1981, a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.  The amicus brief was written by NAACP Legal Defense Fund in support of the claims of the NAAAOMES and an entertainment company owned by Byron Allen, an African-American entrepreneur, that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, refused to carry its programming.  Section 1981’s protections apply to employment and other contracts.

Jimenez v. GLK Foods, LLC; Ramirez v. GLK Foods, LLC,  Case No. 1:2012cv00209 and -00210 (E.D. Wis. filed 2012)(Successful class actions for sauerkraut processing workers from Mexico).

The Chicago firm Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym and Farmworker Justice succeeded in two class action two lawsuits charging Wisconsin-based GLK Foods, the world’s largest sauerkraut producer, with federal and state wage and employment law violations in its hiring and employment of more than 200 H-2B temporary foreign workers between 2006 and 2011.   After rulings in favor of the workers by the federal district court, and the filing of notices of appeal by the defendants, the cases were settled on the merits and on attorneys fees and expenses.  Funds were distributed to the workers, all of whom are in Mexico, in 2018 and 2019.

In 2011, GLK hired H-2B workers from Mexico to cut raw cabbage at a sauerkraut processing facility.  In the fall of 2011, just before a new DOL regulation would have required an increase in H-2B wages nationwide, GLK fired all of the workers that it had brought into the United States (the Jimenez plaintiffs) and replaced them with migrant workers from Florida.   At the time they were fired, the H-2B workers had worked for only six or seven weeks, not enough to repay debts they incurred to pay illegal recruitment fees and visa and transportation expenses that GLK never reimbursed. GLK also notified workers still in Mexico (the Ramirez plaintiffs), who had already obtained visas at their own expense, that their services would no longer be needed, breaching their employment agreements.  In these and other ways, GLK violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Wisconsin Migrant Labor Act, and state contract law. 

Judge Greisbach issued final judgment on September 29, 2017, including damage awards to the plaintiff classes totaling over $1.1 million in damages and prejudgment interest.  Defendants  appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. 

Through mediation, the case on the merits was settled subject to notice to the class members and court approval.  Final judgements were entered in the two cases on September 29, 2018, including prejudgment interest.  The court also approved a plan, paid for by the defendants, for distribution of the damages to class members, all of whom are in Mexico.  The class members, numbering about 240, are receiving a total of $930,000.   Following mediated negotiations, the attorneys fees were settled for $845,000 in September 2018. Farmworker Justice received $202,000 and the remainder went to lead counsel at Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.

PCUN v. Pruitt, Case No. 17-CV-03434 (N.D. Cal. filed June 4, 2017); 293 F. Supp. 3d 1062 (N.D. Cal. 2018)(Certified Pesticide Applicator Rule litigation).

Farmworker Justice and Earthjustice co-counseled this successful lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency and its then-Administrator, E. Scott Pruitt, for delaying implementation of the Certification of Pesticide Applicators regulation concerning safety standards for certified pesticide applicators and their employees who apply restricted-use pesticides (RUPs). The final rule was issued after years of consideration, 82 Fed. Reg. 952 (Jan. 4, 2017) and was to take effect on March 6, 2017.  It requires improved training and prohibits minors from applying these pesticides.  Without engaging in required notice-and-comment rulemaking, the EPA said it was delaying implementation of the new standards.  The EPA defended the lawsuit primarily by denying that plaintiffs had “standing” to challenge the action.  On March 21, 2018, the federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs had standing and that the agency acted illegally.  He issued a declaration holding that the regulation took effect on March 6, 2017 and must be implemented.  Defendants did not appeal.  On November 5, the judge ordered the EPA to pay plaintiffs’ attorneys fees and costs of $205,000, which the government appealed.  Plaintiffs are Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), United Farm Workers, Farmworker Association of Florida, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

Rural & Migrant Ministry v. EPA, Case No. 1:18-cv-04743 (S.D.N.Y 2018).

This successful lawsuit in federal court sought to end the EPA’s delay of implementation of the improved Worker Protection Standard on pesticides (WPS) that the agency issued as a final regulation during the Obama Administration.  The Trump/Pruitt EPA did not wish to implement the WPS provision that requires employers to provide improved pesticide safety training.  The case was filed on behalf of farmworker organizations in conjunction with attorneys general of NY, CA and MD.  The EPA too actions to comply with the regulation a week after the court filing, rendered the lawsuit moot.  We are monitoring to ensure compliance.  The EPA planned to weaken the WPS by issuing a new regulation but was mostly thwarted in its goal by a legislative compromise with the pesticide industry which was reached in early 2019 as part a pesticide registration bill that Congress passed and Trump signed.  The plaintiffs were RURAL & MIGRANT MINISTRY, based in New York; ALIANZA NACIONAL DE CAMPESINAS (National Alliance of Farmworker Women), a national organization serving women farmworkers; EL COMITE DE APOYO A LOS TRABAJADORES AGRÍCOLAS (Farmworkers Support Committee), a nonprofit organization that serves farmworkers, with offices in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland; PINEROS Y CAMPESINOS UNIDOS DEL NOROESTE (Treeplanters and Farmworkers United), a labor union for agricultural workers in Oregon; WORKER JUSTICE CENTER OF NEW YORK, a legal advocacy organization serving farmworkers in New York.