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Workers Seek Sanctions on Turf Farm

Workers of Briggs Traditional Turf Farm (“Briggs” or the “Farm”) have sought sanctions against their employer for misleading employees who could opt into a lawsuit against the Farm. The second amended complaint, filed on December 23, 2021, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, alleges that Briggs illegally and discriminately withheld overtime pay from workers with H-2A visas by purposely misrepresenting them as agricultural workers. The workers claim that they performed duties outside the scope of “agricultural labor or services” and should have been classified as landscape workers, which would mandate that the Farm pay overtime premiums as well as make payroll tax contributions for Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment.

Plaintiffs were successful in gaining conditional collective certification in February 2022, and began to send notice to employees who could opt into the lawsuit shortly thereafter. After the Court denied Briggs’s request to include defense counsel’s contact information in the notice, Briggs responded by directly misinforming incoming workers that they were not eligible for overtime work. Briggs even went so far as to require the incoming workers to sign contracts waiving their right to overtime pay, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Supreme Court precedent.

Potential opt-in workers have expressed their fears that Briggs will retaliate against them for joining the suit. While any form of retaliation for participating in a lawsuit is illegal, the workers have continued to request to join the collective action anonymously to avoid becoming a target for termination.

The H-2A visa program allows U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to sponsor foreign nationals and bring them to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Employers and individuals seeking H-2A visas must go through a rigorous process to ensure that they are not violating any U.S. immigration laws, including demonstrating that there are not enough U.S. workers who are willing and qualified to do the work, and that employing H-2A workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

Workers with H-2A visas are unlikely, due to their citizenship status and limited resources, to pursue further legal action to address any retaliatory actions taken against them. Once terminated, an H-2A worker’s employment status is immediately reported to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the visa is revoked, so any form of employment retaliation carries a risk not applicable to U.S. citizens, even if they work for the same farm.

The case caption for this action is Rios-Gutierrez et al. v. Briggs Traditional Turf Farm Inc. et al., Case No. 4:21-cv-00374, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Many companies hire workers as independent contractors rather than employees to avoid expenses, including the payment of employee benefits, as well as to skirt the requirements of immigration laws. If you have been misclassified as a contractor, you may be entitled to compensation from your employer.

The legal team at Miller Shah LLP has extensive experience representing employee misclassification matters as well as other violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and similar state laws. If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact Samantha Kielbania (sjkielbania@millershah.com) or Chiharu Sekino (cgsekino@millershah.com). The firm can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.

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