Settlement of workers’ H-2B lawsuit awaits final approval

Hernandez worked at Earth Care from 2010 to 2014 digging and planting for the company’s clients every day. Photo: Tim Evanson/FlickrHernandez worked at Earth Care from 2010 to 2014 digging and planting for the company’s clients every day.
Photo: Tim Evanson/Flickr

A lawsuit involving 94 H-2B workers against a Pennsylvania landscaping company has reached conditional certification of the settlement class and a settlement.

Rogelio Ortega Hernandez filed the complaint as the lead plaintiff in Aug. 20, 2015, against Earth Care Inc. and owners Scott Risbon and Kim Risbon.

Earth Care hired the plaintiffs through the H-2B program and had a temporary work force of 100 laborers from March to December.

Hernandez worked for Earth Care from 2010 to 2014 and stated that he and his fellow H-2B workers were never paid the legally mandated rate.

According to the complaint, after June 5, 2013, Earth Care failed to increase the wage rate to $13.43 per non-overtime hour worked and $20.15 per overtime hour worked.

Hernandez also stated that in 2014 he earned $10 an hour and said “no Mexican national H-2B employees of Defendants were paid the required minimum prevailing wage rate of $14.04 per hour at any time in 2014,” according to Courthouse New Service.

Earth Care was also accused of making deductions from H-2B workers’ wages to cover the expenses the laborers accrued each year traveling from Mexico to Philadelphia. Hernandez also noted the company failed to reimburse other workers who completed contracts that were supposed to cover their return trip expenses to Mexico.

Earth Care disputed the class allegations and denied having violated wage laws. However, the two sides entered into settlement negotiations and reached an agreement, according to U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey.

Scott Risbon at Earth Care could not be reached Monday.

The proposed settlement will pay for wages each worker did not receive. Additionally, Earth Care will pay $440 to each employee as compensation for their travel and visa fees for each year they worked for the company.

Hey conditionally certified the settlement, although it remains to be seen how many of the plaintiffs will opt in to the agreement.

“Based on my review of the pleadings and the motion, the agreement is the most expeditious, efficient and fair means of resolving the claims,” the judge said.

Once the period for presenting opt-in forms ends, the parties will seek final certification and approval.

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