Seed Corn Company Considered Employer of Migrant Workers

September 20, 2007 | Roger McEowen

Migrant workers sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act (MSAWPA) alleging unfair recruitment, exposure to pesticides and substandard housing accommodations, among other things.  The workers were hired to detassel and rogue corn on an Indiana farm.  The seed corn grower hired an independent contractor to find workers for the job.  The contractor told the workers that they would work 72-84 hours per week and receive free housing.  That turned out to not be true – the workers ended up working only 20 hours per week and the housing was sub-standard.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the seed corn grower on the grounds that he was not the workers’ “employer.” 

The trial court’s judgment was vacated on appeal.  The appellate court determined that the seed corn grower could be considered the employer of the migrant workers that were hired by the independent contractor in Texas because of the nature of the work and working conditions.  In addition, upon arriving in Indiana and starting work, the seed company provided the workers with tools for the job, transportation and housing.  The contractor also did not have any other clients or business assets.  As a result, the seed corn grower was the “employer” under the MSAWPA.  The court, however, did affirm the trial court’s judgment with respect to migrant workers’ housing claims and claims of insufficient notice under the MSAWPA.  Reyes v. Remington Hybrid Seed Co, Inc., 495 F.3d 403 (7th Cir. Jul. 20, 2007).