United States District Court, N.D. California
FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW DOCKET NO.
M. CHEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dario Martinez Gonzalez worked for Defendants Elkhorn Packing
Co. LLC and D'Arrigo Bros. Co. during the 2016 and 2017
lettuce seasons. He worked for Defendants as an agricultural
laborer, and, in this lawsuit, he alleges that the companies
failed to pay him appropriately, failed to provide adequate
meal or rest breaks, and breached the duty of care they owed
to Plaintiff by providing food that was unsafe to eat. In
December 2018, Defendants moved to compel arbitration.
See Docket No. 24. In arguing that the parties'
Arbitration Agreement should not be enforced, Plaintiff
raised the defenses of economic duress and undue influence.
See Docket No. 28. On October 15 and 16, 2019, a
bench trial was held to determine the enforceability of the
FINDINGS OF FACT
Plaintiff Dario Martinez Gonzalez is a Spanish-speaking
Mexican national who-in 2016 and 2017-worked as an H-2A
agricultural laborer for Elkhorn Packing Co. LLC
(“Elkhorn”) in California. He brings this suit
alleging that Elkhorn failed to pay Plaintiff required
minimum wages and overtime pay, failed to provide meal and
rest periods, breached a duty of care owed to Plaintiff, and
breached their employment contract. See First
Amended Complaint, Docket No. 13.
Defendants are Elkhorn Packing Co., LLC, and D'Arrigo
Bros. Co. (“D'Arrigo”), of California.
Elkhorn is a farm labor contractor located in Salinas, CA.
D'Arrigo is a California agricultural grower that
utilizes Elkhorn as a labor contractor. Id. at 2-3.
Several individuals testified at the trial:
a. Dario Martinez Gonzalez - see ¶ 1.
He was called as one of Plaintiff's witnesses.
b. Jose Juan Plascencia Macias - is a
Spanish-speaking Mexican national who worked for Elkhorn in
2016. He is acquainted with Mr. Martinez Gonzalez because
they were on the same work crew for Elkhorn in 2016. He
worked for Elkhorn in both 2016 and 2017. He was called as
one of Plaintiff's witnesses.
c. Selina Arreola - is employed by Elkhorn.
Her current job title is manager, and she has been with the
company for eleven years. She does not attend new-hire
orientations, but she works with several of the Elkhorn
employees who facilitate such events. She was called as one
of Defendants' witnesses.
d. Octavio Vidales - is currently employed
by Elkhorn and has worked for the company for approximately
eleven years. He was a foreman and later a supervisor, and
for the last several years he has trained workers on company
policies and regulations and conducted new-hire orientations.
He speaks Spanish. He was called as one of Defendants'
e. Carlos Garcia Gutierrez - worked at
Elkhorn from 2007 to 2017. During that time, he was a foreman
who occasionally attended and assisted with new-hire
orientations. He estimated that he had attended more than 100
orientations for new employees, but only two orientations
specifically for H-2A workers. He speaks Spanish. He was
called as one of Defendants' witnesses.
f. Crispin Bermudez - currently works at
Elkhorn and has been with the company for twenty years. He
has had the role of harvest manager for fifteen years. He
helps to recruit workers in Mexico and to oversee crews in
the United States. He speaks Spanish. He was called as one of
The parties stipulated to the following facts:
a. Plaintiff worked for defendant Elkhorn Packing Co. in 2016
b. Plaintiff was authorized to work in the United States.
c. Plaintiff was an H-2A employee during both times he worked
d. Plaintiff was presented with an Arbitration Agreement in
2016 and 2017.
e. The Arbitration Agreement was presented in Spanish.
f. Plaintiff signed the Arbitration Agreements in 2016 and
g. Plaintiff was not provided with a copy of the Arbitration
Agreement to keep.
h. No employee refused to sign the Arbitration Agreement or
otherwise opted out of it in 2016 or 2017. i. Plaintiff was
not expressly told that he could not work for Elkhorn if did
he not sign the Arbitration Agreement.
The Court considered the demeanor and credibility of the
witnesses throughout the trial, comparing their testimony to
the available evidence, the testimony of other witnesses, and
the arguments and briefing provided by counsel. Where the
Court has resolved conflicts in testimony, it has place
weight on its assessment of the witnesses' demeanor as
well as the quality of their testimony and the existence of
corroborating or contradictory evidence. Although more
specific observations are made below, the Court notes that on
certain key matters in dispute described herein, the
testimony of Plaintiff's witnesses was more credible than
the testimony of Defendants' witnesses. Defendants'
witnesses were inconsistent with each other and with the
record, and in several instances offered answers that
Recruitment and Hiring of Elkhorn Employees in
Plaintiff worked for Defendant Elkhorn in 2016 and 2017.
In 2016 and 2017, when Plaintiff was not in the United
States, he lived in Mexicali, Mexico.
in Mexico, Plaintiff worked agricultural jobs, earning
significantly less money than was possible for him to earn in
the United States. Testimony from Plaintiff's witnesses
indicated that it was possible to earn five times as much in
the United States as in Mexico. Plaintiff's testimony
revealed that he had worked agricultural jobs in Mexico since
age six; there was no evidence that he had ever had a
different vocation. He attended school through the secondary
school level, which was explained as the equivalent of
elementary school plus three additional years. He did not
learn English, but he can read and write in Spanish.
In 2016 and 2017, Plaintiff was responsible for financially
supporting his wife, his mother, his step-father (who is now
deceased) and his mother-in-law, who suffers from diabetes.
His family's expenses included rent, bills (for water and
electricity), taxes on their land, and medical expenses for
various members of his family.
Plaintiff first learned about Elkhorn in 2015 and heard that
they were hiring people to work in the United States legally.
The process of applying to work for Elkhorn involved getting
on an applicant list, completing an application, having
one's application accepted, and then applying for a visa
to enter the United States.
Elkhorn first accepted Plaintiff's application in Mexico
in 2016. After accepting his application, Elkhorn assisted
Mr. Martinez Gonzalez in obtaining a visa to enter the United
States. However, the only paperwork that Plaintiff completed
with or for Elkhorn while he was in Mexico (in either year)
was paperwork associated with obtaining the appropriate visa
and entering the United States. Mr. Martinez Gonzalez was not
presented with any other ...