By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – A district court judge has dismissed a lawsuit by six Mexican veterinarians who accused an Idaho dairy of subjecting them to forced labor.
The lawsuit, filed in January 2017, accused the defendants of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to bring them to the United States for the purpose of forced labor.
It accused Funk Dairy and Shoesole Farms, located near Murtaugh east of Twin Falls, of forced labor and human trafficking.
On May 20, Chief U.S. District Court Judge David Nye dismissed the case for lack of evidence and legal merit.
Boise attorney David Claiborne, who represented the defendants, said his clients vehemently rejected the claims all along and feel vindicated by the court’s ruling.
“They were accused of … trafficking human beings,” he said. “They were very pleased that the court didn’t see it that way. The evidence, and the plaintiffs’ own testimony, showed that they came here of their own free will and could leave at any time.”
Claiborne said the defendants, known collectively as Funk Dairy, maintained from the outset that they had lawfully employed the plaintiffs to work in the United States and treated with in accordance with federal and state law.
“There were no restrictions on where they went or how they spent their free time,” he said. “They were granted all the freedoms any American worker would expect to have.”
The defendants, who are all animal scientists, came to the U.S. under a visa work program for people with professional degrees.
According to Nye’s written ruling, they broadly accused the defendants of conspiring “to recruit experienced Mexican veterinarians to work in the United States under the false pretense that they would be professional animal scientists, only to be hired as low-wage, general laborers at Funk Dairy.”
They alleged those acts violated U.S. immigration laws and they also claimed they were subjected to long working hours under arduous conditions and were forced to stay under the threat of deportation, fear and unfamiliarity with the English language and American legal system.
According to Nye’s ruling, the defendants claimed they were tasked with “menial, unskilled farm duties, despite their understanding that they would be animal scientists.” They also claimed that the defendants “monitored their movements and communications, charged them for things such as rent and transportation, reduced their income arbitrarily and generally failed to abide by the agreed upon terms of their employment.”
In his ruling, Nye wrote, “Plaintiffs, however, only provide conclusory statements to this effect with scant evidence in support of such a proposition.”
On the plaintiffs’ claim that Funk Dairy pre-planned a scheme to defraud them and intended to coerce them into staying, Nye wrote that the plaintiffs “cannot point to anything concrete in support of such a position.”
Three of the plaintiffs quit their jobs and Funk Dairy terminated the employment of the other three.
Nye wrote that plaintiffs did not present “any evidence that would indicate that Funk Dairy obtained, and kept, their labor by means of serious harm, threats or other improper methods.”
“This is most strikingly evidenced,” he added, “by two facts: first, that three of the plaintiffs quit … 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. Plaintiffs’ personal choices to leave their employment with Funk Dairy was just that: a personal, independent choice.”