The Farmworker Rights Division would like to thank our fantastic summer interns Juan Barragan-Rangel and Matt Stolz for a wonderful summer of outreach and legal research. Juan and Matt worked on several cases that the Farmworker Division is planning and completed numerous outreach trips around the state of Georgia with two GLSP outreach paralegals and representatives from Tapestri. We were lucky to have both Juan and Matt join the team for the summer and wish them the best as they return to school.
On July 25th, 2018, a United States District Court Judge approved a settlement in favor of thirty-three H-2A workers against Shiloh Berry Farms, (Alma, GA). The guest farm workers filed a complaint alleging that their employer was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, their work contracts, and that the employer fired the workers in retaliation for exerting their rights. The parties agreed on a settlement that compensates the workers for 100% of the minimum wages, 100% of the liquidated damages, and 84% of the retaliation claims allegedly owed.
The workers were agricultural guest workers from Mexico who were recruited to work for Shiloh Berry Farm in 2017. The workers complained that the employer violated their contracts by failing to pay them for all reimbursable expenses and hours of compensable work time and that the employer terminated them in retaliation for the assertion of protected rights, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Represented by Georgia Legal Services Program, the workers sought legal action to recover their damages, including unpaid and lost wages, statutory liquidated damages, unreimbursed expenses, costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
The lead counsel for this case, Lauren Hoff-Downing, commented, “H-2A workers are often scared to speak up about unlawful working conditions because they fear retaliation from their employers. Retaliation against H-2A workers is particularly harmful because H-2A workers can only work for the employer listed on their visa. They therefore face a difficult choice between continuing to work under poor conditions, or speaking up, and risking having no work at all. Shortly after speaking up about their rights, the 33 Plaintiffs in this case were fired and sent back to Mexico. The Plaintiffs continued to assert their rights by filing a lawsuit against their employers, and ultimately recovered all of the minimum wages owed, and a substantial portion of the wages they would have earned had they not been unlawfully fired.”
About Georgia Legal Services Program:
Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) is a nonprofit organization which offers free legal services to low-income or senior-aged Georgians outside of the Atlanta metro area. Our mission is to provide access to justice and opportunities out of poverty. Visit www.glsp.org or call 404.206.5175 for more information.
The Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services filed a federal lawsuit on December 18, 2017, Christian Murillo Quirino, et al. v. Francisco Saucedo, et al., United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. We represented 4 guest workers from Mexico, who were brought to work in Georgia under an H-2A visa and who claimed violations of their rights under the federal minimum wage law and the H-2A regulations by the defendants. The Court approved the settlement on February 28, 2018.
The Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services filed a federal lawsuit on June 2, 2017, Florencio Hipolito Rivera, et al. v. Javier Guerrero, et al., United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. We represented 5 guest workers from Mexico, who were brought to work in Georgia under an H-2A visa and who claimed violations of their rights under the federal minimum wage law and the H-2A regulations by the defendants. The Court approved the settlement on November 1, 2017.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Georgia Dept. of Agriculture Extends Protections to Non-English Speakers
Georgia Legal Services Civil Rights Complaint on Behalf of Farmworker Yields Results
(Atlanta, March 2, 2017) – On February 8, 2017, the Georgia Department of Agriculture agreed to make its protections for workers more accessible to non-English speakers. The agreement, reached between the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a result of a complaint that Georgia Legal Services Program brought to the EPA. Georgia Legal Services brought the complaint on behalf of a Spanish-speaking client, whose initial complaint of a worker protection violation was dismissed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture because the department was not equipped to interview a non-English speaker.
The Georgia Legal Services client, an agricultural worker in the south of Georgia, became ill after being exposed to pesticides while working on a farm in July 2015. The worker’s exposure to pesticides was caused by the farm’s inadequate pesticide handling, in violation of EPA regulations. The worker filed a complaint to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, but the agency was unable to adequately process the complaint because of the language barrier and, as a result, it dismissed the worker’s complaint.
The worker’s complaint demonstrated a violation of the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard, a regulation designed to protect agricultural workers. The regulation includes requirements for protective equipment, safety training, restricted-entry times following pesticide application, and others that prevent poisoning and injury from pesticides.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture, which receives funding from the EPA, is charged with enforcing the Worker Protection Standard in the state. All state agencies that receive federal funding to provide services to the public must make sure that those services are accessible to all individuals, regardless of race, color or national origin, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services Program brought this matter to the EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office and, as a result, the agencies signed an agreement committing the Georgia Department of Agriculture to develop, publish, and implement written procedures to ensure meaningful access to all of the department’s programs and activities by all persons–including people with limited English proficiency.
For more information, please contact:
Solimar Mercado-Spencer, Farmworker Rights Division
(404) 463-1633, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Georgia Legal Services Program is a nonprofit law firm whose mission is to provide civil legal services for persons with low incomes, creating equal access to justice and opportunities out of poverty.
The Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services filed a federal lawsuit on May 1, 2015, 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 alleged 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 an additional $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.
The Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services filed a federal lawsuit on December 23, 2014, 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 alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, against David Francisco-Baltazar, a former labor contractor and his corporate entity, Cisco Produce, Inc. 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, the Defendant filed for bankruptcy, triggering an automatic stay of the suit, but the Court subsequently lifted the stay.
In the Fall of 2015, claims of contract violations against a blueberry grower and two corporate entities that allegedly participated in procuring the workers were amended into the complaint. Jamestown Blueberries, Inc., Van-Adams Blueberry Corp., and Jerry Vanerwegen of Homerville, GA settled the workers’ claims for $10,000. The Court granted a joint petition for dismissal of the remaining claims and counterclaims on July 19, 2016.