Shepherds’ Wage Class Action Dismissed

RENO, Nev. (CN) — Peruvian shepherds who claim that they are woefully underpaid must amend their claims against a sheep company and the Western Range Association, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Jones granted the motions to dismiss Thursday, finding lead plaintiff Abel Cantaro Castillo’s class action is not subject to federal jurisdiction.

Cantaro and Alcides Inga Ramos, both of Peru, both working legally with visas, filed suit last year against the Western Range Association, El Tejon Sheep Company, and its owner, Melchor Gragirena.

The association hired Cantaro through the H-2A visa program in 2007, and paid him and his fellow shepherds an average of only $1 to $2 per hour, far less than minimum wage, he said in the lawsuit.

Cantaro says he and other shepherds were on call 24 hours a day seven days a week and subject to state and federal minimum wage laws.

The Nevada minimum wage is $7.35 an hour, Cantaro says the shepherds were paid an adverse effect wage rate each month, in violation of Nevada law.

The monthly adverse effect wage rate is a weighted hourly average for field and livestock workers that the U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes each year. The average is based on the department’s quarterly wage survey.

The Western Range Association and the El Tejon and Gragirena ranches in California and Nevada all moved to dismiss the federal claims.

In response, Cantaro filed an amended complaint that addressed only Nevada’s minimum wage laws, plus failure to pay wages due upon termination, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

Cantaro originally sought more than $10 million in unpaid wages for the class over six years, but Jones ruled that Nevada’s two-year statute of limitations applies.

In the amended complaint, Cantaro said the shepherds were owed $3.3 million over two years, but Jones said that amount does not meet the requirements of the U.S. Class Action Fairness Act.

The Western Range Association and its co-defendants subsequently filed motions to dismiss the federal class action, for failure to state a claim.

Jones granted the motions due to a lack of subject matter, and gave Cantaro 30 days to file an amended complaint.

Cantaro is represented by Alexander Hood of Denver-based Towards Justice, which did not respond to email and phone requests for comment Monday.

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