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California Ranch Operator Says Judge is Biased in Second Wage Theft Class Action

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Anthony Vineyards Inc. and labor contractor Sycamore Labor Inc. say Judge is biased in a second California wage theft class action lawsuit.

Napa, CACalifornia ranch operator Anthony Vineyards Inc. and labor contractor Sycamore Labor Inc. have requested that a federal judge be disqualified from a proposed wage theft class action. They claim Judge Ana de Alba is biased due to her previous activism and legal work on behalf of farmworkers. A group of vineyard workers claim they were shorted lunch breaks and sick leave, along other violations of the California labor code. This is the second class action filed in 2019 against Anthony Vineyards for California labor violations.

The lawsuit claims Anthony and Sycamore violated California's Labor Code, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and other statutes. The suit seeks to certify a class of all farmworkers who tended to Anthony's grape and vegetable fields from 2015 to 2019, a group that Anthony and Sycamore said would include tens of thousands of laborers, reports Law360.

Martinez-Sanchez, et al. v. Anthony Vineyards

Sebastiana Martinez-Sanchez and Eugenio Antonio filed a class action lawsuit in October 2019 alleging that Anthony Vineyards and Sycamore Labor systematically violated federal and California law  by forcing farmworkers to work off the clock before and after their shifts, requiring them to purchase and maintain their own tools, and shorting them on lunch breaks and sick leave, along with many other allegations of mistreatment, according to court documents. The plaintiffs worked at weeding, pruning, de-leafing, tipping, harvesting, picking, and packing at Anthony Vineyards for four years prior to filing this complaint.

Defendants are accused of violating numerous provisions of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSAWPA), which is a federal law, and the California Labor Code by establishing, maintaining and enforcing unlawful compensation and payroll practices and policies including:
  • failing to compensate Plaintiffs and the Class for all hours worked at the applicable minimum and/or contractual wage rates;
  • failing to provide meal periods or pay premium wages in lieu thereof;
  • failing to provide paid rest breaks or pay premium wages in lieu thereof;
  • failing to reimburse for all necessary business expenses;
  • failing to allow the inspection or copying of employment records;
  • failing to furnish timely each pay period accurate itemized statements separately stating, among other things, total hours worked, piece rate units earned, gross wages earned;
  • failing to pay all wages owed within the timeframes required for resigned or terminated employees.

Judge de Alba

Judge de Alba served on the board of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) from 2015 to 2018 and on the board of Legal Aid at Work from 2014 to 2018. She was appointed by President Joe Biden last July and took over the case in August. In their motion to disqualify, Anthony and Sycamore noted that Judge de Alba praised the work of legal aid organizations such as CRLA and in her prior career advocated on behalf of farmworkers in California's Central Valley. Law360 reported that Judge Alba stated in CRLA's 2015 annual report that, “Without CRLA, justice would be inaccessible to so many in my community…I grew up watching people I cared about work hard only to have their rights violated, and then find themselves helpless to fight back.”

Anthony and Sycamore argue that the shared background between Judge de Alba and the attorneys on this case, as well as her statements, present at least an "appearance of partiality" even if Judge de Alba "is pure in heart and incorruptible." Law360 reported them also writing that Judge Alba’s advocacy "is incompatible with the impartiality necessary to decide the issue of class certification advanced by CLRA alumni and donors who want to represent thousands of agricultural workers.”

The case is Sebastiana Martinez-Sanchez et al. v. Anthony Vineyards Inc. et al., case number 1:19-cv-01404, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

Another Wage Theft Class Action against Anthony Vineyards

Just months before Martinez-Sanchez and Antonio filed their class action complaint, Jose Luis Villanueva Ceja filed a similar complaint against Anthony Vineyards. Villanueva asserted the following:
  • Failure to pay wages for all time worked at minimum wage
  • Failure to pay proper overtime wages
  • Failure to authorize or permit meal periods,
  • Failure to authorize or permit rest periods,
  • Failure to provide drinking water,
  • Failure to indemnify employees for required expenditures,
  • Failure to provide complete and accurate wage statements,
  • Failure to timely pay all earned wages and final paychecks due a time of separation of employment,
  • Unfair business practices

The class definition in the Villanueva action is "all current and former non-exempt employees employed by Defendants in California at any time within the four years prior to [March 15, 2019] and through the date notice is mailed to a certified class.”

California Vintner John Anthony Truchard

In a January 2023 press release, John Anthony Vineyards announced its 20th anniversary in 2023. It added: “Over the years, Truchard’s ventures have not been limited solely to winemaking... Truchard’s philanthropic contributions have been instrumental to the Napa community via his regular involvement with Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Farmworker[s] Foundation... 

And on its website, John Anthony “ has been named the 2023 Napa Citizen of the Year by the Napa Chamber of Commerce, awarded annually “to a community member whose tireless passion and demonstration of vision for Napa serves as an inspiration to many.”  Maybe not an inspiration to farmworkers…


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