Stroock Wins $3.5 Million for Victims of Forced Labor
Miami, FL, March, 14, 2017 -- A Federal District Court Judge has ordered Reyes Tapia-Ortiz, a crew leader in Central Florida, to pay $3.5 million in damages to five migrant farmworkers for abuses committed between 2008 and 2012.
In 2013, a Stroock team led by Bob Wright, which also included Lisa Taormina and Deana Stein, joined with Professors Arturo Carrillo and Susan French from the George Washington School of Law’s International Human Rights Clinic to represent a group of migrant farm workers from Central America with respect to their claims arising from abuses those workers suffered while working in the fields and packinghouse at a corporate farm in central Florida. The matter, which was referred by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), marks the ninth forced labor operation brought to justice by CIW’s Anti-Slavery Program since 1997.
The ruling against Mr. Tapia-Ortiz followed several court reviews last year to determine the nature of the charges and extent of the damages to be paid to the workers. The original investigation was launched in 2010 when a worker brought a complaint to the CIW about conditions on the farm. After reviewing the facts and legal research prepared by law students at the Clinic, the Stroock team drafted and served a complaint in federal court in the Middle District of Florida which asserted claims arising under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”), Alien Tort Claims Act, Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and Florida state statutes. Plaintiffs were initially listed only as John and Jane Does as they feared for their lives.
Only the corporation and its owners appeared to defend the action. During court ordered mediation in June 2015, the farmworkers resolved their claims against those defendants, but not Tapia-Ortiz, pursuant to an Amended Confidential Settlement Agreement. That Agreement included a list of “Public Terms And Conditions” whereby the corporate defendants, without admitting liability, agreed to comply with a list of specified practices with respect to laborers in their fields and packing house. Those agreed practices included hiring laborers directly, rather than through farm labor contractors such as Tapia-Ortiz, adopting a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and workplace violence, and prohibiting firearms in the workplace.
The Court entered a default against Tapia-Ortiz for his failure to appear and Judge Sheri Pollster Chappell then held a day-long evidentiary hearing on the damages issues on August 15, 2016, where the Plaintiffs testified in great detail regarding the threats, broken promises, groping, sexual harassment and deportation described in the complaint. On February 10, 2017, Judge Chappell entered her Order finally granting Plaintiffs' claims for damages against Tapia-Ortiz and awarding a total of $3.5 million to the five migrant farmworkers.
Stroock is a law firm providing transactional, regulatory and litigation guidance to leading financial institutions, multinational corporations, investment funds and entrepreneurs in the U.S. and abroad. With a rich history dating back 140 years, the firm has offices in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Miami. For more, visit www.stroock.com.