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Taylor Farm’s Don-Doff Deal is Off

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Taylor Farm’s proposed $5.3 million class action settlement for donning and doffing violation was declined – the latest in a lengthy litigation battle with California labor law.

Tracy, CAA proposed $5.3 million settlement by Taylor Farms Pacific Inc. to resolve claims that employees were not paid for donning and doffing and other California labor law violations was declined by a California federal judge last month, because the court “cannot simply rubber stamp a class action settlement.”

Along with the donning and doffing complaint (filed in 2013), Taylor Farms employees claimed they were denied meal breaks and had to wait too long for their final paychecks. The proposed deal involves 4,000 former and current nonexempt hourly workers, including temporary workers, who worked at the farm’s facilities in Tracy, California, between 2008 and now. The Salinas company is one of California’s largest producers of bagged salads and fresh-cut vegetables, and harvests 1.5 million to 1.6 million pounds of iceberg lettuce per day.

Plaintiffs Argument and Rule 23

Along with the “no rubber stamp” decision, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller also noted that the workers “still have not sufficiently explained the proposed class on whose behalf they wish to settle or the terms of the settlement,” and they provided “little detail” regarding facts and circumstances to show the settlement amount is adequate. Rather, the plaintiffs had made a “cursory” and “sparse attempt” to meet class action requirements (as per Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s Rule 23) for the proposed settlement.

According to Law360, Judge Mueller said that “plaintiffs do not make an argument for commonality, they make an argument for the court’s [forgoing] a commonality analysis in favor of approving their settlement…This argument is not persuasive, but it is emblematic of plaintiffs’ approach to the Rule 23 analysis here.” In denying the proposed settlement, the judge wrote that the court “cannot simply rubber stamp a class action settlement because it promises recovery and follows years of hard-fought litigation”.

On the other hand, Judge Mueller said the settlement class possibly satisfies Rule 23’s requirements. Plaintiffs’ lawyer Stuart Chandler said the proposed deal is an “excellent settlement for these workers” and that he doesn’t read this order as doubting its integrity. Instead, he sees it as Judge Mueller wanting to ensure that all the requirements have been met.

Named plaintiffs are Maria del Carmen Pena, Consuelo Hernandez, Leticia Suarez, Rosemary Dail and Wendell T. Morris and the case is Maria del Carmen Pena et al. v. Taylor Farms Pacific Inc. et al., case number 2:13-cv-01282, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

More Taylor Farms Labor Law Violations

This isn’t the first time that Taylor Farms has faced California Labor Law violations. Sixteen former African-American employees in early 2018 filed a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court, claiming rampant racist and discriminatory behavior aimed at African American workers at the Tracy facility. In the lawsuit, the employees said that co-workers called them “n—,” “monkey” or Spanish-language racial epithets like “congo” and “mayate.” Further, plaintiffs allege they were denied promotions because of their skin color and were often forced to work in unfavorable conditions, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Taylor Farms told the Chronicle that a third-party investigation into the matter “did not support the claims made by the plaintiffs.”

In July 2019, a lawsuit claiming farming companies around Yuma – near the Arizona-California border -- did not adequately pay migrant workers over multiple seasons resulted in a $2.2 million settlement. The migrant employees worked for Foothill Packing, which harvests lettuce for Taylor Farms.

Taylor Farms Salad Recalls

And to top it off, in May of 2019 a Texas subsidiary of Taylor Farms recalled over half a ton of H.E.B. brand salads because “they do not comply with federal law requiring that seafood, a known allergen, be declared on food labels,” reported Food Safety News. “It is at least the seventh recall by Taylor Farms operations in the past two years, with at least five recalls filed with the FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration for undeclared allergens in salad products.”


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