THE LAWSUIT VS. WA STATE APPLE GROWERS
In 2000, Hagens Berman, led by co-founder and managing partner, Steve Berman, filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against three Yakima Valley apple companies on behalf of several legal Mexican immigrants. The lawsuit claimed the companies conspired to hire large numbers of illegal workers to depress wages for orchard work. Hagens Berman’s lawsuit was filed under the state's Racketeer and Corrupt Organizations Act and accused Matson Fruit Co. and Zirkle Fruit Co. of using with an employment agency, the Selective Employment Agency, as a vehicle for hiring undocumented workers. The suit alleged that Matson and Zirkle told Selective to supply them with unauthorized workers and told Selective not to send legally authorized workers.
According to the firm’s research, in 1999, during Operation Snowbird, the INS found that 74 percent of employees in Matson's apple packing sheds had provided fraudulent documents to be hired. As many as 20,000 packing house and orchard workers at Selah-based Zirkle Fruit Co. were affected, attorneys said.
The lawsuit sought an end to the practice and compensation for class members.
FIGHTING WAGE SUPPRESSION WITH RICO LAWS
A RICO lawsuit must first prove that the underlying crime was committed, then show there was a racketeering enterprise, like a pact between a smuggler and an employer.
The suit was initially dismissed by a federal judge in Spokane, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal in September 2002 ruled that the suit may proceed, and that RICO gave standing to legal workers to sue their employers whom they allege depressed their wages by conspiring to hire undocumented workers at below-market wages. The 9th Circuit concluded that: "We are unable to discern a more direct victim of illegal conduct" than the legal workers whose wages were reduced by unauthorized migrants.
A 2001 decision by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals had reached the same conclusion in another similar case. In that matter, that legal workers employed by a cleaning company can use RICO to sue a competitor who won cleaning contracts by submitting lower bids using unauthorized workers. Commercial Cleaning Services, a janitorial firm, sued Colin Service Systems Inc. for operating an "illegal immigrant hiring scheme" that allowed Colin to underbid Commercial to win the right to clean commercial buildings.
On remand, plaintiffs amended their complaint twice, named several additional defendants and moved for class certification. The remaining defendants then moved for summary judgment. Settlement negotiations followed. As part of the settlement, Zirkle Fruit agreed to pay $1.3 million towards the class settlement fund.
The Court issued its order of final approval and dismissal on May 17, 2006.
Plaintiffs and Zirkle Fruit moved for approval of the proposed settlement, which was conditionally approved at a fairness hearing on Jan. 20, 2006.
Judge Van Sickle granted in part and denied in part Selective Employment's motion for summary judgment and denied the Zirkle Fruit Companies' motion for summary judgment by order dated Jan. 18, 2005.
On July 13, 2004, the District Court, Judge Van Sickle in Yakima granted the plaintiffs’ motion to certify the Zirkle lawsuit as a class action on Tuesday. He denied a similar motion in a lawsuit against Matson Fruit Co., also of Selah, saying the class action requirements had not been met in that case.
On Oct. 21, 2002 United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Judge McKeown) reversed and remanded the case back to the district court.