The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that two strawberry marketers do not have to pay the wages of workers who picked the fruit because the marketers did not maintain and operate the farms where the work was done.

A group of agricultural workers sued Better Produce Inc. and Red Blossom Sales Inc., saying they failed to pay wages under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and California law.

In affirming a lower court ruling, the three-judge panel held that Better Produce Inc. and Red Blossom Sales Inc. are not responsible for paying the farmworker wages because the work was not performed on company premises.

The court also ruled the companies were not subject to the California employer liability law due to insufficient control of the farms and found the companies were not joint employers under federal law.

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Western Growers explained that the appeals court said that although the companies held leases to the farmland and representatives of the businesses worked there, the farmworkers did not perform duties that fell within Better Produce Inc. and Red Blossom Sales Inc.’s regular course of business. The two strawberry marketers could have been held liable under California law if they had used “financially unstable subcontractors,” the group said.

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