In response to stories of abuse from sheep herders who come to the western United States on H-2A visas, an advocacy nonprofit and two public interest law firms have filed suit against Western Range Association. The lawsuit alleges WRA, which works with the vast majority of sheep herder H-2A employers, illegally colluded to keep wages low. Employers cannot pay less than the adverse effect wage rate for their state, but the plaintiffs allege those rates were used as a ceiling rather than a floor and the sheep herders were given no opportunity to compare offers or shop among employers. In a statement to Agri-Pulse, Western Range Association’s general counsel Ellen Winograd said “Western Range Association cannot yet comment on the procedural or jurisdictional aspects of this case, let alone the actual allegations which are currently under investigation but appear to lack merit. Western Range Association perceives, however, that that the filing of this lawsuit and the timing, may be an attempt to utilize the press to gain a litigation advantage in another pending matter.” She also noted that “H-2A sheepherding practices are highly regulated by numerous state and federal agencies but the alleged violations are being raised in a civil lawsuit, apparently seeking millions of dollars of damages and attorney fees on an issue previously adjudicated in favor of Western Range by the Colorado District Court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Llacua v. Western Range, et. al. Plaintiff may be hoping for a different result in Nevada, but the Federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decisively rejected the same types of anti-trust and “wage fixing” claims against Western Range Association, brought by many of the same attorneys; we believe the Llacua Decision in the Tenth Circuit is dispositive.” The complaint focuses on a sheep herder from Peru who worked at a ranch in Nevada. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. Towards Justice, Fairmark Partners and Thierman Buck LLP are representing one named plaintiff and would like the case to be certified as a class action because they allege many others were also harmed.
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This story has been updated to correct a name.