Written by: Amie Alexander, JD/MPS Candidate, William H. Bowen School of Law
A class-action employment law complaint was filed on behalf of over 600 foreign H-2A farm workers against Sarbanand Farms and parent company Munger Bros. (Munger) in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, alleging violations of federal anti-trafficking laws and state anti-discrimination laws. The suit additionally alleges that CSI Visa Processing, a farm labor contractor, violated state labor laws. You can read the complaint here.
Plaintiffs in this case worked as H-2A temporary agricultural workers at Sarbanand Farms during the 2017 blueberry harvest in Washington. The representative plaintiffs represent a class consisting of “all Mexican nationals who worked at Sarbanand Farms, LLC in Sumas, Washington picking blueberries pursuant to an H-2A contract that offered employment from July 2017 through October 2017.”
According to the complaint, Munger imported over five hundred H-2A workers from Mexico in May 2017 to harvest and package blueberries. Plaintiffs allege that Munger threatened to send workers home and blacklist them from obtaining other employment as farm laborers if they complained about employment conditions. Plaintiffs further allege that Munger illegally terminated some H-2A workers who questioned company practices, such as insufficient food and working conditions. Additionally, plaintiffs allege that workers who were injured or became ill were sent back to Mexico at their own expense.
After a worker was taken to the hospital in August, approximately 60 workers organized a strike until Sarbanand agreed to improve safety and health conditions – one of these workers on strike called the Department of Labor, initiating an investigation. The striking workers were later terminated and told that police and immigration authorities would be called if the workers did not vacate housing within one hour.
Alleged Causes of Action
First, plaintiffs allege that Munger and Sarbanand “engaged in a scheme or pattern of threatening foreign H-2A workers to cause them to believe that, if they did not perform labor or services for Sarbanand, they would suffer serious financial harm” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1589(a), which establishes a criminal charge for “forced labor.” Plaintiffs also allege that defendants violated the Washington Farm Labor Contract Act, state anti-discrimination law, and state contract law. Finally, plaintiffs seek relief for wrongful eviction.