More on Joint Employers; in This Instance They Were Not
In a decision rendered last week by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, it reversed the trial court and held that a citrus grower was not the “employer” of the employees with the contractor who supplied fruit pickers. Gaudencio Garcia-Celestino v. Ruiz Harvesting Inc., Case No. 17-12866 (11th Cir. Aug. 2, 2018).
Consolidated Citrus LP hired Ruiz Harvesting Inc. to provide fruit pickers. The pickers were employees of Ruiz. Suit was brought against Ruiz for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and breach of immigration work contracts. The supplied workers were paid based on the volume of fruit picked, sometimes resulting in a payment, on a per hour basis, below the minimum wage. While Ruiz purported to pay the workers the differential, it as well demanded repayment of those amounts at the risk of a threat of deportation. When a class action was filed, the aggrieved employees asserted that Consolidated Citrus should be treated as a joint employer. This case is already wound its way to appeal previously, a prior appellate decision finding that the correct standard was applied with respect to liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act, but the incorrect standard applied to the breach of contract claim. Under the FSLA, speaking generally, an employment relationship exists on the basis of economic dependency. In this case, focusing on breach of contract, the question turned upon the common law definition of the employment relationship. Notwithstanding that Consolidated Citrus set approximate start times for each shift in the amount of fruit to be picked each day, it was Riuz who actually controlled the employees’ performance. As such Riuz (and not Consolidated Citrus) was the employer.
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