On April 7, 2005, attorneys with the Immigrant Justice Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of over 300 predominantly Guatemalan and Mexican migrant workers, admitted to work in the U.S. pursuant to H-2B temporary foreign worker visa program, who planted trees and performed other forestry-related activities for Express Forestry Inc. Plaintiffs alleged that Express Forestry Inc. violated their rights secured by the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("AWPA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1871, and the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219. They sought restitution of unpaid wages, an award of money damages, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief.
Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. That motion was denied. Recinos-Recinos v. Express Forestry, Inc., 2005 WL 3543722, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36871 (E.D.La. Oct 06, 2005).
Plaintiffs alleged that after the lawsuit was filed, agents of the defendants harassed and threatened potential plaintiffs and their families in villages in Guatemala. Plaintiffs sought a court order to prevent such conduct. The Court (Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Knowles, III) issued an emergency protective order enjoining defendants and their agents from unilateral communications with plaintiffs, opt-in plaintiffs, potential plaintiffs, and/or their families regarding the litigation. Recinos-Recinos v. Express Forestry, Inc., 2006 WL 197030, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2510 (E.D.La. Jan 24, 2006). The District Court (Judge Lance M. Africk) then granted plaintiffs' motion for certification of class action and for conditional certification of FLSA collective action. Recinos-Recinos v. Express Forestry, Inc., 233 F.R.D. 472 (E.D.La. Jan 30, 2006).
Discovery followed and the Court was called upon to resolve several discovery disputes and requests for discovery sanctions against the defendants. See Recinos-Recinos v. Express Forestry, Inc., 2006 WL 2349459, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56178 (E.D.La. Aug 11, 2006) and Recinos-Recinos v. Express Forestry, Inc., 2006 WL 3388485, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84583 (E.D.La. Nov 20, 2006). After discovery, the parties engaged in settlement negotiations.
A settlement agreement was reached and approved by the District Court (Judge Lance M Africk) on May 11, 2007. The Agreement called for the payment of $220,000, to be paid out to class members in accordance with an agreed distribution scheme. Defendants also agreed to injunctive relief in the form of various policy changes aimed at preventing further violations of rights of migrant and seasonal workers. Plaintiffs' attorneys agreed to waive all fees and costs they incurred prior to the settlement. If enforcement of the settlement terms became necessary, defendants would be liable for fees incurred by plaintiffs in any successful enforcement proceedings.Dan Dalton - 12/10/2007