On January 25, 2006, a group of migrant forestry workers admitted to the U.S. under the H-2B foreign worker program filed suit against their employer, Superior Forestry Service, Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et. seq., and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act ("AWPA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1801 et seq. Plaintiffs alleged that Superior and its officers failed to pay plaintiffs the statutory minimum wage and overtime wages and failed to maintain complete information on the terms and conditions of the plaintiffs' work as migrant workers as required by law. Attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Immigrant Justice Project, Farmworker Justice, the Virginia Justice Center for Farm and Immigrant Workers, and private firms represented the plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs moved to proceed as a collective action and for class certification, but those motions were denied without prejudice by the Court pending further discovery. Later, on July 17, 2007, the District Court (Judge William J. Haynes, Jr.) ordered that the case could proceed as an FLSA collective action, and on July 30 it approved the collective action notice. Plaintiffs renewed their motion for class certification on their claims under the AWPA on August 21, and on March 28, 2008, the Court (Judge Haynes) ordered class certification under both Rule 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3). Rosiles-Perez v. Superior Forestry Serv., Inc.
, 250 F.R.D. 332 (M.D. Tenn. 2008).
Meanwhile, on May 23, 2006, the District Court (Judge Haynes) had granted a motion by plaintiffs for a protective order, barring defendants from communicating with plaintiffs and prospective class members about the lawsuit and forbidding any type of retaliatory conduct. A month later, plaintiffs had moved for sanctions, alleging that defendants had violated the protective order by failing to completely and accurately inform their supervisory personnel as to its contents. The Court (Judge Haynes) had instructed the defendants to provide its supervisors with a copy of the Court's protective order and ordered the defendants to pay plaintiffs attorney's fees for the motion. Rosiles-Perez v. Superior Forestry Serv., Inc.
, 2007 WL 325784, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8194 (M.D. Tenn. Jan 31, 2007). Over the course of the litigation, the Court went on to grant two more contempt motions by plaintiffs, accompanying each with progressively severe sanctions, including equitable tolling of the FLSA statute of limitations and two additional rounds of FLSA notice and extensions of the opt-in period, and culminating in a July 28, 2009 order that barred the defendants from contesting plaintiffs' proof of damages.
The court also dealt with significant discovery disputes, at one point appointing an expert to remedy defendants' incomplete disclosure and requiring the defendants to pay for the expert's services.
On February 10, 2010, the parties informed the court that they had come to a settlement and asked the court to approve their agreement. Under the terms of the settlement, defendants created a settlement fund totaling $2,200,000 plus interest to pay the claims of the named plaintiffs, the FLSA opt-in plaintiffs, and the AWPA class members. They also agreed to pay $550,000 plus interest in attorney's fees and $150,000 to cover the cost of administering the settlement fund. Defendants further agreed to abide by the AWPA and FLSA and to refrain from taking retaliatory action against plaintiffs.
The Court (Judge Haynes) granted its final approval of the settlement on March 26, 2010, and issued its final judgment order on July 7, 2010.Christopher Schad - 07/10/2012