Six veterinarians have their human trafficking case dismissed by federal judge.
U.S. District Judge David Nye, appointed by President Donald Trump, dismissed a lawsuit filed by six Mexican veterinarians who say they were recruited to be animal scientists at an Idaho’s Funk Dairy Inc. but were forced to work as low-wage laborers instead. In his decision, Nye said that “while Funk Dairy Inc. managers used intimidating language in talking to the workers once they arrived in Murtaugh, Idaho, their actions didn’t rise to the level of forcing the veterinarians to work.”
Veterinarians Cesar Martinez-Rodriguez, Dalia Padilla-Lopez, Mayra Munoz-Lara, Brenda Gastelum-Sierra, Leslie Ortiz-Garcia and Ricardo Neri-Camacho alleged in the lawsuit that their employer “exploited their fear, inability to speak English, and unfamiliarity with the American legal system to force them to stay at the dairy from 2014 to 2015.” They further claimed they were “denied meal breaks, were given substandard housing and spent 12-hour days shoveling manure and milking cows rather than overseeing animal health and reproduction programs as promised.” The plaintiffs cited being threatened with deportation if they didn’t comply and sufficiently complete the work to which they were assigned.
Nye stated the comments regarding having them deported “weren’t threats but rather statements of law: If they stopped working for the dairy, the U.S. would have the right to revoke their work visa status and send them back to Mexico.” David Claiborne, the attorney representing Funk Dairy, stated that the court’s dismissal of the lawsuit was “a good outcome” in the case and that his clients “always believed they’d done everything by the book, in accordance with state and federal law.”
Claiborne had argued the workers did have veterinary duties in addition to some manual labor obligations, and that while managers expected the employees to work hard, they were free to choose where they lived, where they traveled and whether they wanted to continue.
Nye agreed that there was no evidence of force with regard to these matters, stating, “This is most strikingly evidenced by two facts: first, that three of the Plaintiffs quit during their tenure with Funk Dairy because they were dissatisfied with their employment; and second, that Funk Dairy terminated the remaining three employees because they were dissatisfied with their work performance. If Funk Dairy was truly forcing Plaintiffs to perform labor, they would not have allowed three Plaintiffs to quit, nor terminated three Plaintiffs themselves.”
The veterinarians had said they were told they would receive $10 an hour with the opportunity for an increase for working 10 to 12 hours per day, 6 days a week. They were promised a $2,000 bonus and six days of paid vacation after one year of service at the dairy and their employment would last for three years. However, Nye said the terms of the work agreement were verbal and did not serve as a written contract. He said in his decision, “At the least, the issues raised are disagreements about job duties, employment obligations, or expectations, and at the most they are employment, contract, or discrimination claims, but none of the testimony rises to the level of federal trafficking or forced labor.”