$3.5 Million Settlement to Ag Workers for Employer Violations of Fair Labor Standards Act and California Wage Laws

April 28, 2021

In another episode of employers wishing they could do it all over again, a class action comprised of agricultural workers has settled with three California agricultural companies for $3.5 million.  The motion for preliminary settlement approval filed in federal court details the plaintiffs’ case which was filed to address violations by Rancho del Mar, a farm labor contractor and fellow defendants, Better Produce Inc. and C.J.J. Farming Inc., which included wage underpayment, issuance of separate checks to evade California seventh-day overtime, kickbacks, unpaid reimbursements, and meal and rest break violations.

In addition to monetary disbursement, the settlement terms provide that the companies will implement and enforce the following employment practices:

  • Offer to rehire named and opt-in plaintiffs;
  • Pay daily commute/travel time to and from residences to work site;
  • Use best efforts to implement electronic timecards and time keeping during the 2021 growing season;
  • Use best efforts to provide electronic paycheck depositing to all seasonal and field employees with direct deposit of wages into bank accounts of employees;
  • Include all field work on one pay stub;
  • Provide duty-free rest periods of no less than 10 minutes per 4 hours with separate compensation for nonproductive time;
  • Provide 30-minute duty-free lunch period for every five hours of work; and
  • Agreement not use another corporate entity or individual to employ agricultural workers in their business unless the entity or individual undertakes all affirmative changes covered by the consent judgment.

The settlement came after almost 2 years of a “heated” and “hotly contested” back and forth between the parties.  Earlier mediation and other litigation efforts failed, while discovery showed the companies wire transferred over $190,000 to workers named in the suit in exchange for signing withdrawal forms.  The settlement specifically lists a gross settlement amount of $3,550,000, attorneys’ fees of $958,000, litigation costs of $65,000 and enhancement awards of $24,000 each for the three remaining named plaintiffs who did not withdraw their requests after employer offers of settlement.  Any outstanding settlement money will be given to the Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, an advocacy organization focusing on low-wage agricultural workers in the region where plaintiffs and the class members worked.

Cases like this one are a cautionary tale for employers who should take proactive efforts to ensure that they are abiding by all federal and state wage and labor laws. Employers should consider wage and hour audits to prevent these lawsuits.  Contact the attorneys at McKague Rosasco LLP to help your business with all employment matters to avoid any potential legal pitfalls down the line.

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