Garcia-Celestino, et al. v. Consolidated Citrus Ltd. Partnership, No. 16-10790 (11th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
This appeal arose from a labor dispute involving the H-2A visa program. Defendant Consolidated Citrus Limited Partnership (“Consolidated Citrus”) appealed from the district court’s order granting judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and holding Consolidated Citrus liable as a joint employer. All original plaintiffs were Mexican nationals who came to the United States temporarily to work as harvesters on citrus groves in central Florida. These plaintiffs entered the United States legally under the federal H-2A visa program. During the 2005-06 harvest season, Consolidated Citrus struggled to find sufficient labor to meet its harvesting needs. Starting with the 2006-07 harvest season, Consolidated Citrus began working with labor contractors to hire temporary foreign workers. One such labor contractor was defendant Ruiz Harvesting, Inc. (“RHI”), owned by Basiliso Ruiz (“Ruiz”). Consolidated Citrus expected the temporary workers to be at their assigned groves at some time in the early morning, but RHI personnel ultimately decided what time the workers would arrive. Each day, RHI transported workers to and from the groves in RHI vehicles. Under the H-2A program regulations, agricultural workers compensated on a piece-rate basis must be paid at least the equivalent of the wages they would have received under the applicable “adverse effect wage rate” (“AEWR”), which was the hourly minimum set by the Department of Labor. Where a worker’s piece-rate wages did not add up to the wages the worker would have earned under the hourly rate, the employer had to supplement that worker’s earnings to meet that minimum wage. The supplemental amount was known as “build-up” pay. RHI perpetrated a kickback scheme to recoup this build-up pay: on payday, RHI employees drove the H-2A temporary workers to a bank where the workers cashed their paychecks. The workers then returned to the RHI vehicle, where an RHI employee collected cash from each worker in an amount equal to that worker’s build-up pay. H-2A workers were told to return money only to Ruiz and RHI and only when the workers’ paychecks included build-up pay. No one from Consolidated Citrus demanded that H-2A temporary workers return their build-up pay, and no H-2A temporary worker ever complained directly to Consolidated Citrus about RHI’s kickback scheme. After careful review of this matter, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded this case to the district court for further proceedings. To the extent that the district court held Consolidated Citrus liable as a joint employer for purposes of the plaintiffs’ Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claims, the Court affirmed. The Court reversed, however, the district court’s determination that the FLSA “suffer or permit to work” standard applied to the breach of contract claims for purposes of determining whether Consolidated Citrus qualified as a joint employer under the H-2A program. The case was remanded to the district court to apply, in the first instance, that governing standard of common law agency for purposes of the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claims.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on August 2, 2018.