Haitian berry pickers in Florida claiming discrimination settle with growers; Attorneys seek $120K

By John Sammon | Jun 6, 2017

TAMPA, Fla. (Legal Newsline) – Farm laborers hired to pick blueberries for the agricultural growing company Clear Springs Farming who claimed they were discriminated against because of their ethnicity have reached a new settlement, requesting $132,000 in attorney fees.

Also named in the suit as defendants were the agricultural companies Florida Gold Citrus Inc., Howard Leasing Inc. and individual Jack Green Jr.

The pickers, from Haiti, were hired to pick blueberries from the defendant’s farm during the blueberry harvesting season of 2012. The plaintiffs stated that after they reported to work, they were sent home without pay. Claiming to be discriminated against due to their race, color and national origin, the workers filed a class action lawsuit under the Florida Civil Rights Act.

In July 2014, the plaintiffs’ claims were certified as a “rule class action” suit.

On Dec. 6, 2016, the Tampa Division of the Middle District of Florida decertified the class action, finding that individualized damages were not sufficiently common and were inherently individual. Instead of a class action by the entire group of pickers, the plaintiffs would now be required to pursue individual actions against the defendants representing 125 individual claims.

“The plaintiffs’ claims for compensatory and punitive damages would require this court to conduct an overwhelming number of mini trials to determine highly individualized issues pertaining to each of the 125 individual plaintiffs’ damages, which precludes class treatment,” the court brief stated.

Rather than consider each case individually, which could take years to resolve, the court allowed a single forum to seek accommodation. An all-day mediation was held on Dec. 7, 2016, and with the assistance of mediator Edward O. Savitz, the parties agreed on a settlement. On Jan. 27, the parties entered into a settlement agreement.

On April 28, the settlement agreement requested the awarding of attorney fees of approximately $132,000. That figure is out of a total amount of $360,000 to be put into a “common fund” to pay for additional expenses including alleged emotional distress.

Amy Darby and Andrew R. Schindler of Gordon & Rees LLP in Tampa represented Clear Springs Farming.

Ryan Barack and Michelle Erin Nadeau of the law firm of Kwall Barack Nadeau PLLC in Clearwater, Florida, and Bradley Rothman of Weldon & Rothman PL in Naples, Florida, served as class counsel in the case.

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