On June 7, 2007, attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action lawsuit in the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas on behalf of about 2,700 Mexican migrant workers who entered the United States with H-2A visas and harvested and packed tomatoes and performed other agricultural work in Bradley County, Ark., from 2002 to 2007. Plaintiffs alleged that the employers violated the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. by failing to pay the prevailing wage and overtime wages, and not reimbursing workers for travel, visa and hiring fees. Plaintiffs sought money damages, injunctive relief and class certification.
Defendants included former employers Candy Brand, LLC, and Arkansas Tomato Shippers, LLC, and several individual supervisors. Defendants initially responded by filing a motion for more definite statement. The trial court denied that motion. Perez-Bemotes v. Candy Brand, LLC, 2007 WL 4189499 (W.D.Ark. Nov 21, 2007).
On December 9, 2007, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint to include a statement about the grounds of jurisdiction over a class action claim. On October 13, 2008, the Court (Judge Harry F. Barnes) granted plaintiffs' conditional motion to certify a class and motion requesting information of potential class members from defendants. 2008 WL 4809105. After discovery, on March 23, 2010, the Court granted class certification for the plaintiffs, designating two classes. The first class included "all nonsupervisory workers employed by Defendants any time between 2003 and the date of judgment in this matter who were employed pursuant to H-2A temporary work visas;" and the second included "all nonsupervisory workers employed in the Defendants' packing shed operations at any time between 2003 and the date of the judgment in this matter--irrespective of visa status--who did not receive overtime pay during workweeks when they worked more than forty (40) hours." 267 F.R.D. 242. The defendants tried to appeal this decision, though permission for interlocutory appeal was denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Following class certification, the Court approved a stipulated dismissal as to defendant Dale McGinnis, though none of the other business defendants were dismissed.
On August 30, 2010, the Court dismissed individual and joint motions for summary judgment by the defendants, allowing plaintiffs more time for discovery.
The Court found that defendants were legally deemed employers for the H-2A guestworkers, and did not qualify for an exemption from paying overtime. The Court also held that defendants, in accordance with the FLSA, were required to reimburse plaintiffs for travel expenses if they brought plaintiffs' income below minimum wage, during the first work week. According to the employment contract, defendants were also required to reimburse plaintiffs for daily travel expenses and to pay plaintiffs overtime. Accordingly, on May 20, 2011, the Court denied defendants' numerous motions for summary judgment, and granted plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment related to violations of the FLSA and H-2A employment contracts, as well as their motion for summary judgment on the issue of employer status and liability of defendants. 2011 WL 1978414. The Court denied defendants' motion for reconsideration of the matter the next month. Following the grant of summary judgment for the plaintiffs, the Court instructed the parties to submit briefs regarding whether defendants mitigated damages by providing housing, whether defendants were liable for other expenses not presented in the motions for summary judgment, and whether plaintiffs were entitled to attorney fees pursuant to the FLSA.
A jury trial was set for January 23, 2012. Before this date, however, the parties reached a settlement agreement and the Court granted a motion for preliminary approval of a proposed class action settlement. The settlement agreement required the defendants to pay plaintiffs $1,212,500 in damages and attorney fees; it also provided terms for how to handle breach of payment and administration of the settlement agreement. Later that year, defendants breached the settlement agreement, and on September 4, 2013, the Court entered judgment against the defendants, requiring payment in the amount of $790,625 with an interest rate of 5%, with interest building from January 1, 2012 until paid. Additional attorney fees were to be calculated at the time of collection.Dan Dalton - 12/07/2007
Maurice Youkanna - 07/29/2014