YAKIMA, Wash. -- A Klickitat County farm has agreed to pay up to $1.2 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving more than 600 farmworkers.
U.S. District Judge Stanley A. Bastian has given initial approval to the settlement, which will now be sent to former workers via mail and radio ads. Workers have until June 30 to file a claim. Final approval of the settlement is expected this summer.
The case was scheduled to go to trial next month.
When Mercer Canyons, which grows row crops and wine grapes in the Alderdale area, acquired permission from the federal government to hire foreign workers under the H-2A program, it agreed to advertise the positions to domestic workers and provide the same wage of $12.
Former employees Bacilio Ruiz and Jose Amador filed suit in 2014, saying the company failed to notify domestic workers of jobs paying that rate.
Judge Bastian ruled in April 2015 that the case could proceed as a class action, with Ruiz and Amador serving as representatives. Mercer Canyons appealed the ruling, but the appeals court upheld the order.
Mercer Canyons disputes the allegations and tried to comply with the regulations, said Michael T. Reynvaan, an attorney for Perkins Coie in Seattle, which represented Mercer Canyons.
However, the company felt it was best to resolve the case and focus on its business, he said.
“We’re very pleased to get this resolved and get the payments out to workers later this summer,” said Lori Isley, managing attorney for Columbia Legal Services, which represented the farmworkers.
Isley said everyone in the class — including potential workers who would have worked at the farm had they been aware of the higher pay — will receive $1,000.
Those who held a job with Mercer Canyons will receive an additional $500. Ruiz and Amador will also receive $7,500 for serving as class representatives.
Mercer Canyons will pay up to $545,000 for those claims, plus $650,000 legal fees to the plaintiff, Reynvaan said.