Columbia Legal Services is engaged in multiple cases, at various stages of litigation, at all times. Our advocacy teams work alongside communities impacted by the unjust systems of incarceration and immigration to seek a Washington in which everyone has equitable rights and opportunities, and no one is held in cages. Below are updates on our active and recent cases.


UFW v. Greenwood Mushrooms (Windmill Farms) – workers fight for better treatment and the right to unionize

Workers at a mushroom farm in Sunnyside, Washington have faced discrimination, poor treatment, and illegal firings for several years. Attempts to stand up for their rights at work, including forming a union to better protect themselves, have been met with harassment, intimidation, and retaliatory treatment and terminations. We are representing six workers, as well as their chosen union, the United Farm Workers, in a case against Windmill Farms (formerly Ostrom Farms).

Status: With co-counsel Martinez Aguilasocho, this lawsuit was filed in Yakima County Superior Court on November 28th 2023.

Bell v. DOC – false drug test results should not lead to real, cruel punishment

In prisons across Washington, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has been using faulty drug tests to justify cruel punishment, including months in solitary confinement and lengthened time in prison. In 2021, Massachusetts prisons were ordered to stop the use of similar tests with a judge describing them as “only marginally better than a coin flip” at identifying drugs. Plaintiff Gregory Hyde was placed in administrative segregation (another term for solitary confinement) for almost five months after a “presumptive” positive result on a packet of crossword, word search, and Sudoku puzzle books sent by Mr. Hyde’s elderly father.

Status: In September, we filed a class action lawsuit against DOC on behalf of Clifton Bell, Gregory Hyde and all other people who have been punished based on faulty drug test results. Since the initial filing, we have received numerous calls from people in similar circumstances and the case is ongoing.

Ta’afulisia et al. v. DCYF et al. – youth do not belong in adult prisons

Young people serving adult-court sentences in Washington are supposed to be held at Juvenile Rehabilitation (JR) centers until they turn 25 years old, in accordance with brain science and human development. Yet Green Hill School, a JR facility run by the Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF), has been transferring young people to adult prison with no warning, process or oversight, in violation of state law. CLS sued on behalf of all young people at risk of this unlawful and unsafe practice.

Status: The court approved our final settlement agreement on October 27th, providing the opportunity for all current class members under the age of 25 to have a transfer hearing if they wish to return to JR custody. The settlement includes robust policy changes to ensure transparency and due process for any future transfers from juvenile rehabilitation, and a period of three years for CLS to monitor DCYF’s compliance.

Gomez v. Stemilt & Fierro v. Stemilt – two cases to protect farm workers from abuse

Stemilt Ag Services in Wenatchee utilizes the H-2A “guestworker” program to fill more than 1,000 positions in dozens of orchards across Central and Eastern Washington. They are one of the largest fruit growers in the world. Nearly all H-2A farm workers in Washington are from impoverished areas of Mexico and Central America and their visa allows them to stay in the U.S. while employed yet offers few protections against employer abuse and retaliation. H2-A workers with Stemilt say that management routinely threatened them with firing, sending them back to Mexico, and ensuring they are never hired again if they failed to pick a certain number of apples per day.

Status: What began as two distinct cases: Gomez, a class action on behalf of over 1,100 workers filed in July 2020, and Fierro, a companion case on behalf of 14 individual clients filed in January 2022, has now been consolidated. Opposing counsel levied their large team to employ a variety of tactics, including filing motions for Rule 11 sanctions (claiming that they suffered damages when our clients in rural Mexico were not able to appear for a scheduled deposition). Finally, this month, a settlement agreement was signed in the Fierro case, and we are currently working on distributing settlement funds to clients.

Torres v. Department of Labor – fair pay for farm workers

This case involves the complex system of “prevailing wages” — the wages which agricultural employers must pay workers on H2-A temporary agricultural visas and local workers on the same farms. The system is intended to prevent employers from paying as little as possible when importing workers from other countries. However, the process for setting these wages has allowed – even incentivized – the government to authorize rates far below the true market, meaning both H2-A and local workers suffer. CLS is representing farm workers whose wages are threatened by the faulty 2019 wage survey and subsequent surveys.

Status: Originally filed in December 2020, this case has seen many twists and turns. Early in 2021, a judge agreed with farm workers that the year’s wage survey was incorrect and could not be used and we began prolonged negotiations with the US Department of Labor. In the past year, we have received a set of adverse rulings from a new judge assigned to the case and have a pending appeal in the Ninth Circuit. Recently, we saw policy change in an unexpected way, as USDOL published a proposed regulation echoing the position we took in negotiations.  We are looking at legislative solutions as well.


Lambert v. Kittitas County – protection from medical debt after jail

While Mr. Lambert was awaiting trial in Kittitas County Corrections Center (KCCC) he developed a painful and serious infection in his leg, requiring emergency hospital care. Despite state law outlining how medical costs are supposed to be covered for indigent people in jails, KCCC charged Mr. Lambert $12,000 for this care. In April 2023, the judge issued a summary judgement order in favor of Mr. Lambert, ruling the jail must comply with state law and end the practice of charging people for care they cannot pay for.

Status: The team received a summary judgment order in their favor (as well as an order denying the Defendant’s motion to dismiss) on April 17th. This is an amazing outcome for Mr. Lambert, and hopefully will go a long way in preventing similar harm to other folks who end up needing medical care while in custody. We are currently informing all Washington jails of their need to comply with the law.

Braam v. Washington – reforming the foster care system in Washington

This case was filed in 1998 on behalf of 13 children who had experienced neglect and harm while living in foster care. Braam set out to ensure the safety and basic needs of children in Washington’s foster care system. After twenty-five years and several rulings and settlement agreements, this case ended in late 2022 when Washington finally met all the required benchmarks for improvement. The timeline and outcome of this case demonstrate the incredible commitment – and potential – when pursuing systemic change.

Jackson v. King County & Rogers v. DCYF – two cases involving youth held in solitary confinement

Jackson: We completed this case against King County Jail for holding children and youth in illegal solitary confinement. After the final settlement agreement, the CLS team worked to distribute the funds to the young people who endured this treatment and reached all, but one class member, distributing more than $1.35 million to 76 people. Eligible youth each received $500 for each day they were held in solitary confinement.

Rogers: We settled another case involving youth in solitary confinement with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). At a DCYF facility, youth were being held in solitary confinement, while in handcuffs, and without access to food, water or a bathroom, as punishment for refusing to be strip searched. In addition to damages, DCYF agreed to numerous policy changes and accountability measures to protect youth in its care from this horrific treatment going forward.


In addition to these cases, CLS teams are currently investigating several more issues raised by our communities, including: the criminalization of homelessness, immigrant workers’ right to organize, economic injustice faced by people in prison and their families, the faulty sealing of juvenile records, prison system issues, and poor conditions and rights violations in county jail.