MONTEREY, C.A. — A California labor contractor will be paying farmworkers $2.6 million in damages based on a recent settlement in federal court. The farmworkers were found to have been exploited by Salvador Zavala Chavez from April 2009 through April 2012 when he violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, Chavez declared bankruptcy in November 2014 making it unclear as to when the farmworkers will be able to collect on the money they have been awarded. Despite the bankruptcy, the farmworkers should still be able to receive their award from California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office.
The Overtime Violation
In March 2012, more than 150 farmworkers had filed complaints with California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office. While the Labor Commissioner’s Office will typically look into any well-founded complaint, the fact that more than 150 complaints were filed added significant weight to the allegations against the company. The investigation into the complaints led to the federal lawsuit and the current judgment against Chavez.
The farmworkers, primarily those working at Zavala Farms in Monterey County grape and lettuce fields, were found to have regularly worked more than 10 hours a day without the mandatory breaks each day. The farmworkers were subject to altered time records and denied overtime wages. The investigation also found proof that the company changed the farmworkers’ time cards to not only reduce the number of hours the farmworkers appeared to work, but also to reduce the actual number of workers that appeared to be employed by Zavala Farms. Any one of these actions is a violation of the FLSA, but Chavez was also found to have fired 14 employees for complaining about not getting paid. This retaliatory firing is also a violation of the FLSA and state labor laws.
The California Labor Commissioner’s Officer, not the farmworkers, filed the lawsuit against Chavez in October 2012. Chavez was provided with a proposed $1.2 million settlement offer in November 2014. However, Chavez failed to respond to the settlement offer and, in February 2015, the court stepped in and ordered the $2.6 million award. The $2.6 million award is $1.4 million more than was originally proposed in November 2014 and includes a provision enjoining, or preventing, Chavez from any further violations of federal labor laws.
If your employer has fired you for raising concerns or complaints about their wage policies or if you believe your employer is altering your time card without your permission, contact our overtime pay lawyers today. Time is limited for filing wage and overtime complaints so it is important to call today! Our knowledgeable team of overtime pay lawyers can be reached at (855) 754-2795. Or complete our Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form and our experienced legal team will evaluate your case. If we accept your case, we will represent you under our No Fee Promise. This means there are no legal fees or costs unless you receive a settlement.