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Merchants Not Liable|for Berry Pickers’ Wages

(CN) - Seasonal strawberry pickers cannot collect unpaid wages from the merchants who sold their bankrupt boss's produce, the California Supreme Court ruled.

Six strawberry pickers sued two merchants after their employer, Munoz and Sons, stopped paying their wages and later went bankrupt. Isidro Munoz Sr. had a difficult time paying his workers in May 2000 due to a collapse in the market. Work stopped in the El Campo field later that month, as some workers apparently hadn't been paid in weeks.

The pickers sued for unpaid contract and minimum wages, unfair competition, breach of contract, and other claims.

The trial court ruled that the merchants did not qualify as the workers' employers, and a state appeals court agreed with the exception of an oral agreement with one merchant.

The main case then proceeded to the California Supreme Court, which ruled that the strawberry pickers cannot collect from the merchants under the theory that the merchants benefited from the employees' work.

"For the same reason that defendants benefited from the plaintiff's work, so too did the grocery stores that purchased strawberries from defendants, and the consumers who in turn purchased strawberries from the grocery stores," Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote.

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