Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, Inc.
Case Concerning Farm Worker Exclusion from Overtime Protection
Worker Justice – IMPACT LITIGATION
A group of workers from a lower Yakima Valley dairy raised concerns about their working conditions, including the failure of the employer to provide meal and rest breaks, the long hours of work and dangerous working conditions. Columbia Legal Services, along with private co-counsel, Marc Cote, filed a class action on their behalf seeking to change the practices and recover the workers damages for unpaid wages. The workers also challenged the exclusion of farm workers, including dairy workers, from overtime protection under the state Minimum Wage Act.
The non-overtime wage claim damages for the class were settled for $600,000, leaving the constitutional challenge to the exemption of farmworkers from overtime. The Washington State Dairy Federation and the Washington Farm Bureau requested and were granted leave to intervene, so they are now also parties in the case defending against the farmworkers’ challenge.
The case challenges nearly half a century of excluding farm workers from the basic health and safety protection of overtime which is afforded to almost all other workers engaged in dangerous occupations. The exemption is rooted in the racial bias of the New Deal era when political compromises were reached to exclude farm workers and domestic workers in order to get the southern votes needed to pass basic federal protections for workers. This bias was incorporated into Washington law and the exclusion remains today. Because there is no reasonable grounds for the exclusion, and it impacts a fundamental right, it violates the privileges or immunities clause of the state constitution, and also violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Legislative efforts are also underway at the federal level to extend overtime protection to farm workers.
Who is a farm worker in Washington State?
Definition of who is exempted from overtime under Minimum Wage Act, RCW 49.46.140(2)(g).
Superior Court Judge Approves Class Action Settlement of Retroactive Overtime Pay for Milkers at DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, Inc
Last week, Yakima Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson gave final approval of a class action settlement for over $1 million for claims of retroactive overtime pay for a class of milkers at DeRutyer Brothers Dairy, Inc.
The parties reached an agreement after the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s exclusion of dairy workers from overtime pay work was unconstitutional because it violated “a fundamental right for Washington workers to health and safety protections” under the state constitution.
The lawsuit was filed by two dairy milkers, Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar, against DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, Inc., which owned and managed a large dairy operation in Outlook, Washington, with a herd of over 5,000 milking cows. Lori Isley, Andrea Schmitt, and Joe Morrison of Columbia Legal Services (CLS) and Marc Cote and Anne Silver of the Seattle law firm Frank Freed Subit & Thomas LLP represent the workers.
The workers alleged they worked nine to twelve hours a day, six days a week, without the benefit of overtime pay based on the unconstitutional exclusion of agricultural workers from overtime protection. The parties reached a settlement after briefing was submitted to the Superior Court on the issue whether the Washington Supreme Court’s decision applied retroactively. Under the terms of the settlement 264 class members who worked at DeRutyer Brothers Dairy, Inc. will receive 100% of their overtime pay and additional interest.
“It was a long journey, but through this lawsuit we were able to establish a right to overtime pay for all dairy workers in Washington State who worked long hours without overtime compensation and put their health and safety at risk,” said class representative Jose Martinez. “I am happy with the results and proud to have been part of this case. I am also thankful to our attorneys, Familias Unidas por La Justicia, and the UFW for their support through this case,“ he said.
“This is the right outcome for our clients. The Washington Supreme Court’s decision also paved the way for overtime protections for all agricultural workers in the state,” said Andrea Schmitt, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services.
“The purpose of overtime laws is to protect workers from long hours that are harmful to their health,” said Marc Cote of Frank Freed Subit & Thomas LLP. “For decades workers in other industries had the protection of these laws, while farmworkers were excluded from these important protections. The Washington Supreme Court’s decision begins to address this longstanding example of systemic racism that was based on a New Deal era exclusion of farmworkers from fair labor standards,” said Marc Cote. Mr. Cote added, “We appreciate the DeRuyters’ willingness to step forward and compensate the workers with this settlement.”
At least four other states (CA, MN, NY, MD) provide overtime protection to agricultural workers.
Marc Cote, Frank Freed Subit & Thomas LLP Attorney
Andrea Schmitt, Columbia Legal Services Attorney
360-943-6260 Ext 203, firstname.lastname@example.org