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Arias-Villano v. Chang & Sons Enterprises, Inc.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Franklin

March 15, 2019

ANA ARIAS-VILLANO & others[1]
v.
CHANG & SONS ENTERPRISES, INC., & others.[2]

          Heard: November 5, 2018

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on November 17, 2015. The case was heard by Michael K. Callan, J., on motions for summary judgment.

         The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review. Susan E. Garcia Nofi (Leticia Medina-Richman also present) for the plaintiffs.

          Sandra E. Lundy (David G. Gabor also present) for the defendants.

          Christopher J. Schulte, of the District of Columbia, for American Mushroom Institute, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          William C. Newman & Harris Freeman, for American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          BUDD, J.

         The issue in this case is whether the plaintiffs, who work for the defendants' company that grows, harvests, packages, and distributes bean sprouts, are entitled to overtime pay for the hours they worked over forty each week under G. L. c. 151, § 1A (overtime statute). A judge of the Superior Court determined that the work that the plaintiffs performed fell under the agricultural exemption to the overtime statute, G. L. c. 151, § 1A (19), and, on cross motions for summary judgment, allowed the defendants' motion and denied the plaintiffs'. We conclude that, under the plain language of the statute and the legislative history, the agricultural exemption does not apply to the plaintiffs, and therefore, they are entitled to overtime wages.[3] Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants and the denial of the plaintiffs' motion. The plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment shall be allowed.

         1. Background.

         We set forth the material facts contained in the judge's written decision on the motions for summary judgment, supplemented with undisputed facts from the record. Boazova v. Safety Ins. Co., 462 Mass. 346, 347 (2012). The defendants grow, harvest, package, and distribute bean sprouts in a 44, 000 square foot facility that operates year-round. Ten fifteen-by-fifty square foot rooms are dedicated to growing the bean sprouts, a hydroponic operation that is mostly automated. Beans are fed into machines that pasteurize them and then discharge them into containers where they sprout without the use of soil. Computers monitor the sprouts and dispense water and fertilizer into the containers when needed.

         The plaintiffs, who were employed by the defendants for various periods of time from 2012 to 2015, were not involved in the growing operations, but instead cleaned, inspected, sorted, weighed, and packaged the bean sprouts. They also cleaned the facility and discarded waste. The plaintiffs regularly worked more than forty hours per week; some weeks they worked as many as seventy hours. However, the plaintiffs were never paid the overtime rate for the hours they worked in excess of forty hours weekly.[4]

         The plaintiffs brought an action in the Superior Court, claiming that the defendants, their former employers, failed to pay them overtime wages as required by law. The defendants contended that the plaintiffs are not entitled to overtime wages because their work falls under the agricultural exemption, which states that the overtime pay requirement shall not apply to those "engaged in agriculture and farming on a farm." G. L. c. 151, § 1A (19).

         Both parties moved for summary judgment. The motion judge allowed the defendants' motion and denied that of the plaintiffs. We granted the ...


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