OUTLOOK, Wash. -- A Yakima County Superior Court judge has given preliminary approval for a $600,000 settlement for a group of dairy workers at a Lower Valley dairy.
Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar, on behalf of the group of nearly 300 workers, filed a class-action lawsuit against the DeRuyter Brothers Dairy of Outlook in December claiming the company failed to provide adequate meal and rest breaks and that workers were not paid for all time worked.
They said they worked at the 5,000-herd dairy nine to 12 hours a day, six days a week without rest breaks, meal periods or overtime pay.
While the settlement came months after DeRuyter Brothers Dairy was sold to a new owner this past spring, the original owners are liable under the settlement, according to Columbia Legal Services, which represented the workers.
“The sale definitely was a factor in trying to make sure, from all sides, that we did the best we could to resolve everything that could possibly be resolved,” said Lori Isley of Columbia Legal Services.
Former dairy co-owner Genny DeRuyter did not return an email seeking comment. A worker who picked up a call to the DeRuyter Brothers Dairy, now under new ownership, said DeRuyter no longer worked at the office.
The same lawsuit challenges a state law exemption that excludes farm workers from overtime protection, which attorneys said was racially motivated. But a portion of the lawsuit was not resolved by the settlement, but remains active.
Attorneys said that the exemption violates the state constitution, by giving agricultural employers special treatment and, in turn, discriminating against Latino farm workers.
Isley expects that issue will likely go before the Washington State Supreme Court.
“The resolution of the (other) wage claims really allows us to focus on that issue and get that big issue resolved for our clients,” Isley said.
The parties in the lawsuit will remain the same, she said. The new owners of DeRuyter Brothers Dairy are not involved in the case.
Legislatures and courts nationwide have been ending provisions that have exempted farm workers from various labor provisions.
Last year California passed a law making farm workers eligible for overtime pay. It lowers that state’s 10-hour-day threshold for overtime by half an hour each year until it reaches the standard eight-hour day by 2022.
It also will phase in a 40-hour standard workweek for the first time. The governor will be able to suspend any part of the process for a year depending on economic conditions.
Also last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a provision exempting farm and ranch workers from worker compensation was unconstitutional.
Employees who worked for DeRuyter Brothers Dairy between Dec. 8, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2016, will be eligible for a share of the settlement, which is based on the number of shifts worked. Written notices stating the estimated amount of money they will receive will be mailed on Sept. 8. Workers will have until Oct. 9 to opt out of the lawsuit or file an objection to the settlement to Yakima County Superior Court.
Payments are expected to range from $15.40 to about $15,000. Plaintiffs Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar are expected to receive a service fee of about $7,500 each for their involvement in the lawsuit.
If final court approval of the settlement is given by the end of October, workers should receive payment before the end of the year, Isley said. Workers are encouraged to contact Columbia Legal Services at 509-575-5593 for any questions or concerns.
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