Skip to main content

Are you a legal professional? Visit our professional site

Search for legal issues
For help near (city, ZIP code or county)
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location

Legislature Wrongly Denied Defense to Agricultural Employers to Favor Unions, 9th Cir. Rules

Article Placeholder Image
By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 23, 2016 5:58 AM

A federal appeals court ruled the California legislature wrongly carved out a law to help workers' unions in lawsuits against their employers.

In a final order to elaborate its earlier decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that the Legislature passed a "safe harbor" provision in Assembly Bill 1513 to gain the support of the the United Farm Workers of America. The UFW was engaged in litigation against one the plaintiffs at the time, and the safe harbor provision denied them a defense in the case.

"The only reason the carve-outs were included in the final bill was to procure the support of the UFW," the court said in upholding an Equal Protection claim while rejecting a Bill of Attainder claim. "A law making a defendant ineligible to assert an affirmative defense in a civil lawsuit simply does not fit within that category of legislative action."

Trouble Over Piece-Rate Wages

The case arose in 2015 after the bill became Labor Code Section Cal. Lab. Code § 226.2. The Legislature passed the law in response to court decisions that exposed agricultural companies to complaints over piece-rate wages to workers. In those cases, the courts held that piece-rate workers must also be paid for each hour of "nonproductive time" -- time in which a worker was at work but not completing a task -- and for rest, recovery, and meal periods.

Those decisions exposed many employers to unanticipated and potentially crippling class litigation, and the legislature responded with AB 1513. It codified the holdings but added a "safe harbor" for employers to pay -- except for the plaintiffs. They were already in litigation with the UFW, and the Legislature excluded them.

"We recognize, as stated in the famous quotation often attributed to Bismarck, that laws are like sausages, in that it is better not to see them being made," the court said. "So too courts rarely inquire into the sausage-making of political compromise. But here, we cannot imagine a plausible legitimate basis for the package of legislative classifications set by the legislature in AB 1513's carve-outs, which requires us to conclude that Plaintiffs have alleged a plausible equal protection claim."

Related Resources:

Find a Lawyer

More Options