WASHINGTON, Mar. 15, 2017 - Mercer Canyons, a winery and diversified farming operation in Washington state’s Horse Heaven Hills, has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a class-action suit involving more than 600 Yakima Valley farmworkers.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian has granted preliminary approval to the agreement, under which Mercer will set up a settlement fund of $545,000. Mercer also has agreed to pay $650,000 in attorney fees, but Bastian said in his March 7 order that he would address the fee question in a separate order.
The deadline for class members to file a claim is June 30. A hearing to approve the settlement likely will be held this summer, but the judge has not scheduled a specific date.
“The lawsuit alleged that Mercer Canyons misled local farm workers when it failed to tell them about higher-paying vineyard jobs under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program and underpaid those who did obtain jobs,” Columbia Legal Services, which represented the workers, said in a news release.
Mercer challenged the allegations, but Bastian ruled in April 2015 that the matter could proceed as a class action. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision last August about six weeks after hearing arguments in the case.
The 641 workers who are members of the “Inaccurate Information” class – so called because they allegedly were not informed about jobs paying $12 an hour available under the H-2A program – can receive $1,000 each; 250 workers who also are members of an “Equal Pay” subclass – meaning they ended up working at Mercer but were paid less than $12 per hour – can receive an additional $500. The actions that gave rise to the complaint occurred in 2013 and the complaint was filed in March 2014.
In his order granting preliminary approval, Bastian called the plaintiffs’ case “sufficiently strong to justify a valuable settlement.” He said the $545,000 fund “represents approximately 42 percent of the maximum award possible,” which he called “a significant proportion of an award.”
An attorney for Mercer Canyons told the Yakima Herald that although the company did not agree with the allegations, it felt it was in its best interests to settle the matter.