A federal judge has expressed sympathy for plaintiffs who claim the U.S. Department of Labor coerced them into signing agreements to settle charges they violated federal labor law. A ruling in their favor could help curtail abusive tactics employed by the department.

Last year, two farms — Pan-American Berry Growers and B&G Ditchen — paid the Labor Department $210,000 to settle allegations they had harvested blueberries in violation of federal minimum wage law.

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