Demetrio v. Sakuma Bros. Farms (Majority)Annotate this Case
The United District Court for the Western District of Washington certified two questions of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. The questions arose from a class action employment lawsuit then pending in the federal court. This case began in 2013 when two workers sued Sakuma Brothers Farms Inc. in federal district court on behalf of all seasonal and migrant agricultural workers Sakuma employed. Sakuma paid a "piece rate" wage based on the Workers' productivity. The piece rate was the only compensation the Workers received. In the only claim relevant here, the Workers alleged that Sakuma deprived them of paid rest breaks required by WAC 296-131-020(2). The Workers contended "on the employer's time" meant that Sakuma had to pay a wage separate from the piece rate for the 10-minute period they are on break, since no piece rate wages accumulate during that time. Sakuma responded that it sets the piece rate with rest periods in mind and that breaks were therefore "on the employer's time" as regulated. The Washington Supreme Court held that the plain language of WAC 296-131-020(2) required employers to pay employees for rest breaks separate and apart from the piece rate. "An all-inclusive piece rate compensates employees for rest breaks by deducting pay from the wages the employee has accumulated that day. Hourly employees do not finance their own rest breaks in this way, and requiring pieceworkers to do so strips the phrase 'on the employer's time' of any practical meaning. That same language requires that rest breaks for pieceworkers be paid at least at the applicable minimum wage or the employee's regular rate, whichever is greater."