DeRuyter Brothers Dairy class action case is resolved and Washington passes new law regarding overtime pay.
Yakima County Superior Court has granted approval for a $1 million settlement that concludes a class-action lawsuit filed in 2016 by Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar on behalf of roughly 300 workers of DeRuyter Brothers Dairy in Washington. The funds will provide retroactive overtime pay due to the employees, which only recently became mandated.
Martinez-Cuevas and Aguilar alleged in the suit they “worked nine to 12 hours a day, six hours a week without rest breaks, meal pay, or overtime pay.” Most of the wage claims were resolved in a $600,000 settlement approved by the court in 2017. However, it did not address a challenge to an existing state law exempting workers from overtime pay.
The case was reviewed by the Washington state Supreme Court, which ruled the state’s overtime exemption for the dairy workers was unconstitutional. The case then went back to Yakima County Superior Court to determine whether DeRuyter Brothers’ employees would receive back pay.
“The case was set for a hearing, but a settlement was reached,” said Andrea Schmitt, an attorney for Columbia Legal Services, representing the workers. “We were quite confident we would win. The settlement reflects that. The settlement is pretty good.”
Jacobus and Geneva DeRuyter have since sold off their business, but John Ray Nelson, a Spokane attorney representing the family, said, “The original complaint challenged state law regarding overtime, but doesn’t allege that DeRuyter violated the overtime law as written at the time.” The former owners, he confirmed, will fulfill the new requirements.
“They came to the point where the DeRuyters wanted to get on with their life,” Nelson said. “It didn’t seem like they could count on justice prevailing from the initial Washington Supreme Court decision.”
According to court documents, under the settlement’s terms, “$515,000 will be paid to those who worked for the dairy between December 8, 2013, and May 25, 2017. The amount received would be based on the amount of time worked.”
Schmitt said, “The payments would range from $65.65 to $18,473.23, with the median payment at $690.12. Martinez-Cuevas and Aguilar will receive an additional $7,500 service award as the plaintiffs in the lawsuit…The remainder of the settlement will cover attorneys’ fees and costs and a reserve fund for any additional taxes or expenses.”
As a result of the state Supreme Court’s decision, legislators, advocates for agricultural workers, and industry officials negotiated a bill revoking the overtime exemption for all of the industry’s workers. The bill passed the state House and Senate with bipartisan support and was signed by Governor Jay Inslee in May. Agriculture workers will start receiving overtime pay on January 1, 2022.
Schmitt noted that “the overtime exemption in Washington state was based on a federal labor law aimed at Black agricultural and domestic workers,” adding, It’s a clear example of how people could not be acting in a racist way themselves and be perpetuating these systems. The growing national conversation in the last year about systemic racism and agricultural workers during the COVID-19 pandemic likely wouldn’t have changed the legal outcome, but it made it easier to talk about those issues, including in legal briefings. Between 2016 and now, the way we are thinking about racism in our laws and society is significantly different. This case, in some ways, evolved with those conversations.”