SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – A Peruvian shepherd working legally on a U.S. visa claims in court that his bosses at a central Utah farm were so abusive they shot dogs to intimidate workers, made him beg for canned food and refused to pay minimum wage.
Zosimo Rojas sued R. Larson Sheep Company, Mountain Plains Agricultural Service, Ray Terry Larson and Randy J. Larson, in Federal Court.
Rojas claims the defendants, who run a sheep ranch in Ephraim, hired him in 2006, then treated him “similarly to the very animals he was hired to care for.”
Rojas claims the companies’ owners, the Larson brothers, ignored his medical needs and “berated” him for not rationing his food.
“Since at least 2006, defendants RLSC [R. Larson Sheep Company], Randy Larson, and Ray Larson have used defendant MPAS [Mountain Plains Agricultural Service] as their agent to procure a supply of H-2A workers from Peru to work on their ranch.
“The H-2A program enables employers to import foreign workers to perform temporary agriculture work in the United States,” the complaint states.
Rojas says he worked on the ranch seven days a week for 8 to 17 hours per day, and was promised $750 per month – well below federal minimum wage.
“During all periods of work, plaintiff Rojas was given only a single day off, when he was taken to the hospital with kidney stones. Even then, defendants refused to give him time off until he had complained of the pain for three days,” the complaint states.
“In addition to requiring plaintiff Rojas to work long hours without adequate rest, the defendants RLSC, Ray Larson, and Randy Larson engaged in a continued pattern of abusive and intimidating behavior towards plaintiff Rojas throughout his employment.
“For example, defendants repeatedly referred to plaintiff Rojas as a ‘son of a b*tch,’ ‘motherf*cker.’
“Defendants RLSC, Ray Larson, and Randy Larson brought food to plaintiff Rojas only every 15 days, and the food provided was grossly inadequate to maintain minimal health, both in terms of quantity and quality.
“Defendants provided primarily canned food to plaintiff Rojas (mixed vegetables, tuna fish, tomatoes, ramen noodles, chile, Shasta soda (on occasion), milk, bologna, potatoes, onion.
“Plaintiff Rojas was forced to ration his food supply and to beg for food from other workers whose supplies were equally low. Plaintiff Rojas’ requests for additional food were sometimes ignored by defendants RLSC, Ray Larson, and Randy Larson.
“When defendants RLSC, Ray Larson, and Randy Larson acquiesced and provided some additional food, they berated plaintiff Rojas for not rationing his food sufficiently, and told him he ate like an elephant.
“Defendants RLSC, Ray Larson, and Randy Larson controlled plaintiffs Rojas’ work schedule and breaks and often would only allow him 15 or 20 minutes to eat one meal a day during work, regardless of the length of the day,” the complaint states. (Spelling and parentheses as in complaint.)
Rojas says the Larsons housed him for 2 years in a small trailer without a fan, plumbing or running water, then moved him to a larger trailer, “which had capacity for running water and a shower, both of which did not work.”
He claims the Larson brothers verbally abused him and other workers and shot dogs to intimate their employees.
“Defendants RLSC, Ray Larson, and Randy Larson were verbally abusive to plaintiff Rojas and other workers, constantly calling them degrading/discriminatory names, like ‘f*cking Peruvians,’ ‘tontos’ (stupid), and ‘mecos’ (wild or uncivilized Indian).
“On one occasion, defendant Ray Larson became upset, retrieved his rifle, and shot and killed 5 of his dogs. He then angrily exclaimed to the ranch workers, ‘Who’s next?’
“Plaintiff Rojas and the other workers felt personally intimidated and threatened.
“In short, defendants treated plaintiff Rojas similarly to the very animals he was hired to care for.”
Rojas says he suffered physical illness, pain and mental anguish from the Larsons’ treatment. He says he left the farm “in fear for his health and safety” in 2011.
He seeks $95,600 in wages due, attorney fees, and damages for breach of contract, violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and conversion.
He is represented by Jonathan Benson of Midvale.