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Eller & Sons stunned by $11M wage judgment

A Georgia horticulture contractor has been found liable for additional wages due to a group of Guatemalan and Mexican workers. A federal judge ordered the firm to pay more than $11 million to the guest workers, who did not receive appropriate pay while they were planting trees throughout the region. Eller & Sons Trees, Inc., a Franklin company, was punished for its violation of wage and hour laws in the largest court award of its kind.

The plaintiffs in the case were represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The award was granted despite protests from the company’s owners, who say that the lawsuit effectively bankrupted the company and its primary shareholders. Legal representatives for the defendants say that entire communities in Guatemala have essentially destroyed their own ability to make money in America because they targeted Eller & Sons. The lawsuit resulted in the company going out of business, which may have removed the only link those guest workers had to America.

Nonetheless, the class-action suit was successful in obtaining compensation for the 4,000 guest workers who were employed by the company during the 1990s and early 2000s. The company had allegedly failed to pay the workers the federal minimum wage. Workers also contended that Eller & Sons should have paid a prevailing wage instead of the unreasonably low rates.

Attorneys say that the result of this case shows a judicial commitment to protecting workers throughout the nation. Even guest workers deserve to receive a minimum standard of treatment, according to legal teams associated with the case. They say that the decision will have long-lasting effects because it will give employers reason to reconsider their wage policies considering guest workers and legal residents.

In this case, not only had the employer failed to pay the federal minimum wage, but it had also failed to provide a prevailing wage; that means that people doing similar work in the area were receiving significantly more money for the same skilled work.

Source: The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, “Judge: Georgia company must pay foreign workers $11.8 million,” Jeremy Redmon, Oct. 30, 2012.