Labor Claims of Mexican Farm Workers Revived
(CN) - The 9th Circuit revived claims Wednesday that a Nevada onion farm failed to properly pay the Mexicans it employed as temporary workers.
Victor Rivera Rivera and 23 other Mexican citizens claimed that Peri & Son's farm failed to reimburse them for travel and immigration costs, breached their employment contract, and paid them a wage below the minimum required by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The workers said that they had to pay hundreds of dollars upfront to recruiters and to secure an H-2A visa, and that they were required to pay for their own ride to the farm and back to Mexico at the end of the season. Since such expenses were primarily for the benefit of the company, the workers should be reimbursed, they claimed.
U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones in Reno dismissed all of the farm workers' allegations, however, finding that the company was not required to pay the expenses, and that the other claims were either too late or not specific enough.
A unanimous federal appeals panel revived most of the farm workers' claims Wednesday, calling for further proceedings in the lower court.
Finding it ambiguous as to which side benefited more from inbound travel and immigration expenses, the three-judge panel deferred to a Department of Labor Field Assistance Bulletin from 2009 that says "travel and immigration-related costs necessary for workers hired under the H-2B program are for the primary benefit of their employers, and the employers therefore must reimburse the employees for those costs in the first workweek if the costs reduce the employees' wages below the minimum wage."
The panel also disagreed with the lower court's finding that the farm workers had not been specific enough in their contract claims.
Finally, the panel found that the workers had "sufficiently alleged willfulness" to meet the requirements for a three-year statute of limitations on their FLSA claims, rather than the two-year statute of limitations that the lower court applied.