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Martinez v. Shinn

argued submitted seattle washington: April 6, 1993.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. D.C. No. CV-89-00813-JBH. James B. Hovis, Magistrate Judge, Presiding.

Before: Robert Boochever, David R. Thompson and Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Kleinfeld.

Author: Kleinfeld

KLEINFELD, Circuit Judge:

Appellees, forty migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, sued appellants, Washington farmers, for violations of the Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSAWPA), Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and Washington law. The case was tried before a magistrate Judge, who found in favor of the workers and awarded them actual and statutory damages under the MSAWPA, unpaid minimum wage amounts and liquidated damages under the FLSA, and backpay amounts under Washington law, as well as injunctive relief. The farmers appeal the amounts of statutory damages awarded under the MSAWPA and the inclusion of damages for emotional distress in the court's award of actual damages to three plaintiffs. We affirm.

I. Background.

Plaintiffs worked as asparagus cutters on appellants Shinns' Washington farm in 1988. All of the plaintiffs but two had their permanent place of residence in Texas. All of the Texas-based plaintiffs except the Ofelia Gonzalez family were recruited to work for the Shinns by Eustacio Martinez, who had cut asparagus for the Shinns since 1984. The plaintiffs are all of Mexican descent. Most of them have limited educations and speak little or no English. The Texas-based plaintiffs perform farm labor for a living, following the harvests.

Prior to 1987, the first task to be performed by migrant workers recruited by Eustacio Martinez was the cutting of asparagus. In 1987, some of the workers were asked to arrive early to plant asparagus. In 1988, the Shinns again asked Eustacio Martinez to bring his workers early to plant asparagus. When the workers arrived at the agreed-upon date, however, they found that the planting work had already been completed. The plaintiffs moved into housing provided by the Shinns, and awaited the commencement of harvesting work.

Several days after plaintiffs arrived at the Shinns' farm, they were given a "Labor and Housing Agreement," which made disclosures concerning the terms and conditions of employment. The form stated that the workers would be paid 11 cents per pound of asparagus cut, and a bonus of 3 cents per pound upon completion of the season. The top portion of the form was written in English, and was complete as to the terms of employment. The bottom portion was written in Spanish, but the portions specifying the terms and conditions of employment were left blank on some workers' forms.

Plaintiffs began cutting asparagus on April 8, 1988. During the first part of the season, they were paid 11 cents per pound of asparagus cut and delivered to the packer-purchaser. On or around May 25, however, the Shinns began to pay plaintiffs by "paid pounds," which is asparagus of a warehouse acceptable grade. Cut pounds exceed paid pounds because some of the asparagus cut is not marketable. Plaintiffs did not agree to this change, and the Shinns did not explain to them the reasons for the change at the time it was made.

The asparagus season ended on June 21, 1988. Plaintiffs received their final paychecks on June 24. The paychecks were accompanied by a note from the Shinns stating that plaintiffs had been mistakenly overpaid for cut instead of paid pounds from April 8 to May 25 and that the overpayment had been deducted from their end-of-season bonuses. The deductions significantly reduced plaintiffs' expected bonuses. Eustacio Martinez told Kyle Shinn that the plaintiffs were upset about the deductions, and asked Shinn to pay the withheld wages. Shinn refused. The plaintiffs contacted Evergreen Legal Services. After being contacted by an Evergreen lawyer, the Shinns made additional payments to plaintiffs.

At one point during the course of the harvest, Kyle Shinn told Eustacio Martinez that all of the workers would be rehired the following year. At the end of the 1988 harvest, Shinn told Martinez that there would be no work for Martinez or any of the other workers during the following year. At trial, Shinn admitted that he would not rehire the workers because he was angry that they had sued.

The court found that the Shinns violated the following provisions of the MSAWPA:

(1) failure to make written disclosure of terms of employment, 29 ...

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