The U.S. District Court in Boise has dismissed a lawsuit against Murtaugh-based Funk Dairy brought by six Mexican veterinarians formerly employed at the dairy.
The lawsuit, filed in January 2017, accused the dairy’s owner, David Funk, and others of engaging in criminal conspiracy to bring the veterinarians to the U.S. illegally for the purpose of forced labor.
The plaintiffs claimed the defendants conspired to recruit them under false pretense to work as animal scientists but instead forced them to work long hours under arduous conditions as low-wage general laborers.
The lawsuit claimed the defendants violated the forced labor and human trafficking provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
In addition to employment as professional veterinarians, the plaintiffs claimed they were told they would receive $10 an hour with the opportunity for raises for working 10 to 12 hours per day, 6 days a week.
They also claimed they were promised a $2,000 bonus and six days of paid vacation after one year of service, help with housing and transportation and that their employment would last for three years.
Those terms of employment, however, were never put in writing.
The plaintiffs contended they were given menial, unskilled farm duties and defendants failed to abide by the agreed-upon terms of employment.
Ultimately, three plaintiffs quit and three were terminated.
In granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment, Chief U.S. District Judge David Nye ruled the testimony and evidence do not amount to either forced labor or trafficking.
Even assuming plaintiffs’ claims are true, which Funk Dairy strongly rejects, plaintiffs have not presented any evidence the dairy obtained and kept their labor by means of harm, threats or other improper methods, he wrote.
“If Funk Dairy was truly forcing plaintiffs to perform labor, they would not have allowed three plaintiffs to quit nor terminated three plaintiffs themselves,” he wrote.
“To be sure, it does appear that there were disappointments, confusion or even unfulfilled promises … but none of the testimony rises to the level of federal trafficking or forced labor,” he wrote.
David Claiborne, attorney for Funk Dairy, said the court’s dismissal of the lawsuit is a “very good outcome” for his clients.
“They felt always they had done everything by the book,” he said.
They lawfully employed the plaintiffs to work in the U.S. and treated them in accordance with federal and state law, he said.
“It’s been a long process to prove that,” he said.
There was some conflicting evidence about what the plaintiffs thought they were promised. Those alleged promises were not in writing, and his clients didn’t think they made those promises, he said.
It came down to representation of employment the dairy provided to the U.S. government to obtain visas for the veterinarians, he said.
That included work as animal scientists, job responsibilities and an annual salary of at least $25,000, according to court documents.
The defendants did perform veterinary duties as well as other tasks that did not require a veterinary license but were part of the job, he said.
His clients held up their side of the agreement. The conflict was in what defendants thought they were promised, he said.