Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Escriba v. Foster Poultry Farms (9th Cir. - Feb. 25, 2014)

Maria Escriba worked in a Foster Farms poultry processing plant in Turlock, California.  I dare anyone to attempt to enjoy that job.  She took off four weeks during Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2007 in order to visit her sick father in Guatemala.

There was a dispute about whether Escriba asked for unpaid family medical leave or just a two-week vacation.  By contrast, there's no dispute that when Escriba failed to show up or contact work for three straight days, she was terminated.  The case was complicated both because it was a "he said/she said" case about what Escriba requested when she took off work as well as because lots of the supervisors at Foster Farms don't speak Spanish.  Which makes it difficult because you can probably guess what language is spoken by many of the people (including Escriba) who work on the Foster Farms line pulling feathers off of chickens.

Which is why we have juries.  The jury ultimately found in favor of Foster Farms.  From my reading of the evidence, that's an entirely reasonable conclusion.  The Ninth Circuit agrees.

So that's the merits.  Escriba loses her appeal.

But Foster Farms cross-appeals the district court's refusal to award it over $21,000 in costs.  It's true that the prevailing party is normally entitled to costs.  But the district court (correctly) viewed this case as a close one, and one that related to an important workplace issue that might affect lots of people even though it was not a class action.  The district court also correctly noted that awarding costs would essentially bankrupt the not-wealthy-at-all Escriba.  Which is why it exercised its discretion to refuse to award costs.

The Ninth Circuit affirms that decision as well.

I've got no problem with the Ninth Circuit's decision.  I just wanted to point out that Foster Farms hired high-priced attorneys from Mayer Brown in Washington DC to bill a nontrivial number of hours (almost certainly resulting in legal fees well over $20,000) in order to attempt to convince the Ninth Circuit to impose a $20,000 cost award against a former employee who worked in its poultry processing plant and was paid less than $12,000 a year.  This strategy was undertaken by a company that had approximately two billion dollars in revenue during the years in question.  And which proclaims on its web site that its principal "Values" are that "We work with great people.  They're family to us" and that, accordingly, "It's important to us to treat our employees . . . with fairness and respect."

Remember that the next time you're buying chicken in the grocery store.  Because I know that I hire high-priced lawyers to seek a $20,000 cost award against my family members who make less than $12,000 a year all the time.

That's the way I show them love.  And demonstrate to the world my values.