Federal Court in Georgia Orders Human Trafficker to Pay Over $275,000 to Pine Straw Workers


Contact:    Soli Mercado-Spencer, smercado-spencer@glsp.org

Tel. 404-463-1633

Brunswick, GA, August 1, 2019 – On July 25th, 2019, a United States District Court Judge ruled in favor of thirteen pine straw workers against farm labor contractor Manuel Sanchez.  The guest workers, who were in the U.S. with H-2A temporary work visas, complained that Sanchez subjected them to human trafficking conditions, including forcing them to work for little to no pay and subjecting them to inhumane living conditions.  Sanchez did not answer the lawsuit and did not oppose the workers’ motion for default judgment.  The District Court for the Southern District of Georgia entered a judgment against Sanchez in the amount of $278,889.66.  The workers had previously reached a settlement for a portion of their unpaid wages with the pine straw company, Premium Pineneedles, LLC.

Manuel Sanchez recruited these workers from poor villages in Mexico, with false promises of gainful employment and free housing.  During recruitment, Sanchez defrauded the workers out of hundreds of dollars in illegal fees, and induced them to take on debt and travel to the United States to work in Sanchez’s pine straw harvesting operations in Georgia.  Once in Georgia, Sanchez refused to pay the workers’ wages, subjected them to inhumane living conditions, and used threats of deportation to coerce the workers to remain under his employment.  The Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services Program represented the workers.  The lead attorney for the case, Solimar Mercado-Spencer, commented, “Cases like this are all too common in Georgia. We are glad that we were able to expose one of these unscrupulous farm labor contractors and that our clients had their day in court.  We will continue our fight for the most vulnerable workers in our state.”

About Georgia Legal Services Program: Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP) is a nonprofit law firm that offers free civil legal services to Georgians 60 and older and those with low-incomes outside of the Atlanta metro area. Our mission is to provide equal access to justice and opportunities out of poverty.  Visit www.glsp.org or call 404-206-5175 for more information.

Read the Judge’s Order

Sanders Farm and Associated FLC Settle Federal Wage Lawsuit for $39,500

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.

5 H-2A Workers’ Claims Settled for $10,000

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.

Mundo Hispanico Entrevista al Abogado Dawson Morton Sobre el Pacto con Southern Valley y Hamilton Growers

Una de las empresas agrícolas más grandes de Georgia ha acordado pagar $485,000 dólares para resolver una demanda federal en la que participaron unos 90 trabajadores agrícolas extranjeros y nacionales.

La demanda en la corte federal para el Distrito Medio de Georgia afirmó que la agroindustria, basada en Norman Park, Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable, Inc. Y Hamilton Growers, Inc., pagaron a los trabajadores agrícolas muy por debajo del salario mínimo, no pagaron horas extras y no les pagaron por todas las horas trabajadas.

Publicado en Mundo Hispanico, 11 de noviembre de 2015

Vea el video en Mundo Hispanico

Hendrix Produce, Inc. To Pay Over $100,000 to Settle Lawsuit Brought by Farmworkers

One of the biggest Vidalia onion farms in Georgia agreed to pay more than $100,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by farm workers. The settlement was the subject of an article published in Atlanta’s biggest newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Read the article in the AJC here.

In the lawsuit, 30 workers alleged that Hendrix Produce, Inc. and farm labor contractor Yesenia Merino paid them well below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour from 2009 to 2012. Last week, a federal judge approved the settlement. As part of the settlement, the workers will receive more than $60,000 in back wages and job-related reimbursements. One of the workers, Antonio Hernandez-Hernandez, said: “We fought for our rights, and I am glad that justice was done.”

Uno de los principales ranchos de cebollas Vidalia en Georgia acordó pagar más de $100,000 en un acuerdo extrajudicial para poner fin a una demanda civil presentada por trabajadores mexicanos y guatemaltecos contratados por medio de visas H-2A. 

El acuerdo fue sujeto de un artículo publicado en el periódico principal de Atlanta, el Atlanta Journal-Constitution. El enlace está aquí:http://www.ajc.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/georgia-farm-to-settle-lawsuit-brought-by-mexican-/nhfyJ/

En la demanda, 30 trabajadores alegaron que el rancho Hendrix Produce, Inc. y su contratista laboral, Yesenia Merino, les pagaron muy por debajo del salario mínimo federal de $7.25 por hora en las temporadas del 2009 al 2012. La semana pasada, un juez federal aprobó el pacto. Como parte del acuerdo, los trabajadores, de México y Guatemala, recibirán más de $60,000 en pagos atrasados y reembolsos relacionados a sus gastos de trabajo. Uno de los trabajadores, Antonio Hernandez-Hernandez, dijo: “Peleamos nuestro derecho, y me alegra que se hizo justicia.”