May 18, 2021

Court Hears Arguments in Coachella Hero Pay Lawsuit

On May 14, 2021, a federal judge heard arguments in Western Growers’ lawsuit challenging the City of Coachella’s so-called “hero pay” ordinance requiring agricultural employers to pay workers an additional $4 per hour for at least 120 days.

The lawsuit filed by Western Growers, California Fresh Fruit Association and Growing Coachella Valley seeks a preliminary injunction on the grounds that the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague, among other things. U.S. District Judge John W. Holcomb appeared troubled with several aspects of the ordinance including provisions that could result in lawsuits and penalties if an employer halted or reduced operations to avoid operating losses that may result from paying the City’s mandated pay increase. 

The ordinance was purportedly passed to compensate ag, grocery, restaurant and retail pharmacy workers for incurring the risks of working through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Howard Sagaser, counsel for the ag associations, pointed out that the number of COVID-19 cases among agricultural workers was not even in the top 10 industries for infection rates in the City. Moreover, Coachella growers successfully worked to quickly vaccinate most of their workers.  

While the City’s motion to dismiss was to be heard at the same time as the preliminary injunction motion, the court did not address any of the arguments set out in the City’s motion, focusing instead on the key arguments in the preliminary injunction motion.

After hearing oral argument for about 45 minutes from attorneys for both sides, the court took the matter under submission. There is no timetable for the court to issue a ruling. The City’s ordinance is set to expire after 120 days (or June 10) but there is nothing currently stopping the City from extending the ordinance if it elects to do so – unless the court grants the preliminary injunction.

For additional information, contact Jason Resnick at 949-885-2253.