A recent lawsuit accuses the United States Department of Labor of violating the Freedom of Information Act by failing to release public records regarding a series of regulations as per a request by the Oregon Farm Bureau. Representatives with the OFB claim that the DOL unfairly imposed regulations on a number of blueberry farms across the state, causing those businesses to suffer financial setbacks and lose a substantial portion of their harvests. It is unclear whether the DOL will attempt to halt civil litigation by offering a settlement before the case goes to trial. Representatives with the agency have yet to comment on the case.
According to the lawsuit, the Labor Department penalized three Oregon-based blueberry farms for violating federal minimum wage and record-keeping regulations. This punishment ultimately resulted in those businesses being unable to transport their goods before they over-ripened and became unfit for sale. The plaintiffs say the DOL then told the farmers they would have to provide back payments and fines, as well as acknowledging that they violated regulations in order to have the orders revoked. One of the plaintiffs argued these tactics amount to extortion.
Following the Labor Department’s punitive measures, the Oregon Farm Bureau filed a Freedom of Information Act request on behalf of the farmers in order to determine whether the DOL’s response was warranted. However, the DOL reportedly failed to respond with the requested information within 20 working days as required by the law. The Farm Bureau recently announced it will partner with state lawmakers in effort to address the Labor Department’s alleged misuse of its regulatory powers.
Legislators and other officials from across the state criticized the DOL’s tactics, with Oregon’s State Labor Commissioner asking the federal agency to stop placing hot goods orders on businesses that sell perishable food. Such orders allow the department to indefinitely stall shipments until a company complies with all pursuant laws and regulations.
If you have a dispute with another business or entity that cannot be resolved, contact a Portland, Oregon business law attorney to discuss your options.
Source: Oregon Live, “Oregon Farm Bureau sues U.S. Labor Department over actions against blueberry farmers” Bryan Denson, May. 30, 2013