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Ramirez v. Benito Valley Farms, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

June 28, 2019




         Plaintiff Francisca Ramirez (“Plaintiff”) sued Defendant Benito Valley Farm, LLC (“Defendant”) for individual claims and representative claims under the California Private Attorney General's Act (“PAGA”) arising from Plaintiff's employment with Defendant. On August 25, 2017, the Court granted approval of the parties' settlement pursuant to PAGA. ECF No. 61. Before the Court is Plaintiff's unopposed motion to enforce the settlement. Having considered Plaintiff's submissions, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion to enforce the settlement.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff worked for Defendant from 2006 to 2016 as a seasonal agricultural worker harvesting green beans. ECF No. 54 at 2. During this time Plaintiff lived with her family in housing owned by Defendant. Id. Plaintiff alleges that her supervisor, Foreman Alfonso Flores, created a hostile work environment and engaged in discrimination and retaliation directed at Plaintiff. Id. at 3. Plaintiff also alleges Defendant failed to comply with its legal duties in the provision of housing because the employee housing in which Plaintiff resided contained serious habitability issues, including inadequate flooring and the presence of rats and flies. Id.

         Plaintiff complained about these habitability issues, but Defendant failed to adequately address the issues. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant repeatedly failed to compensate employees for all hours worked, failed to pay overtime wages, and between 2012 and 2014, failed to provide rest and meal breaks. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant's payroll records and paycheck registers were defective and contain inaccurate information. Id.

         B. Plaintiff's Lawsuit Against Defendant

         Plaintiff filed the complaint in the instant case on August 17, 2016. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (“FAC”) on September 15, 2016. ECF No. 14. The FAC contained twenty claims, which sought damages for Plaintiff's nineteen individual claims and civil penalties under the PAGA. Defendant filed an answer, apparently to the original complaint, on October 25, 2016. ECF No. 20. Defendant filed an answer to the FAC on December 9, 2016. ECF No. 34.

         On March 10, 2017, the parties attended a mediation session and reached a tentative settlement. ECF No. 54 at 4. After several more rounds of negotiation, the parties executed a settlement agreement on June 12, 2017. Id. This settlement agreement, discussed in more detail below, provides $40, 700 in compensation for Plaintiff's individual damages, $27, 500 in civil penalties under the PAGA, injunctive relief, and $41, 800 in attorney's fees, for a total settlement amount of $110, 000. See ECF No. 53-1 (“Settlement Agreement”).

         On June 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed an unopposed motion for approval of the settlement. ECF No. 53. Under PAGA, “court[s] shall review and approve any settlement of any civil action filed pursuant to [PAGA].” Cal. Labor Code § 2699(1)(2). Accordingly, the Court was required to approve the settlement provisions related to Plaintiff's PAGA claims. In addition, Plaintiff requested approval of the settlement provisions providing for attorney's fees and costs. ECF No. 54 at 13.

         On August 25, 2017, the Court approved those portions of the settlement relating to Plaintiff's PAGA claims and those portions of the settlement providing for attorney's fees and costs. ECF No. 61.

         C. Settlement Provisions

         The Court now discusses specific relevant provisions of the settlement. First, the settlement requires Defendant to implement certain business practices and “comply with all California wage and hour laws.” Settlement Agreement § I.A. Specifically, Defendant agreed “that Plaintiff's counsel will conduct an audit of payroll in March 2018.” Id. § I.B. Defendant also agreed to “join a Farmer Employer Association, ” id. § I.C., and to “take steps necessary to ensure that Supervisors, Foreman [sic], and non-supervisory employees are properly trained” on sexual harassment policies and procedures. Id. § I.D. Defendant also agreed that “at least one time during each harvesting season, the crew Foreman will conduct a ‘tail-gate' meeting with his or her crew members on the topic of preventing sexual harassment and retaliation.” Id. § I.D.ii. Finally, Defendant agreed to provide employees with a written notice in Spanish “informing them of a dedicated telephone number for reporting harassment directly to the owner.” Id. § I.E.

         Second, the Settlement requires Defendant to pay $40, 700 to Plaintiff, id. § II.A.i.; $41, 800 to Plaintiff's counsel's for attorney's fees and costs, id. § II.A.ii.; and $27, 500 in PAGA civil penalties to eligible employees. As the Court explained in approving the settlement, 226 employees were eligible to receive a proportionate share of the PAGA civil penalties. ECF No. 61 at 3. Because the penalties were classified as underpaid wages, the money in the PAGA fund was paid entirely to the affected employees. Id. at 6-7; see also Thurman v. Bayshore Transit Mgmt., Inc., 203 Cal.App.4th 1112, 1145 (2012) (explaining that under PAGA, “underpaid wages go[] entirely to the affected employee or employees as an express exception to the general rule that civil penalties recovered in a PAGA action are distributed 75 percent to the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) and 25 percent to the aggrieved employees”).

         The settlement requires Defendant to pay Plaintiff her individual payment within three months of the Court's approval of the settlement. Settlement Agreement § III.A. The agreement also requires Defendant to pay PAGA penalties to employees within nine months of the Court's approval and to pay Plaintiff's counsel's ...

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