The United States Department of Labor's Office of the Solicitor uncovered rather extensive child labor violations by Paragon Contractors Corp. and owner Brian Jessop. More than 100 children under the age of 12 were employed during school hours to harvest pecans on a ranch in Utah. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) places limitations on the employment of children. There are stricter limitations for children under the age of 14 and lesser restrictions for youths between 14 and 17. The rules are somewhat less restrictive for agricultural employment.
Below is the rule for agricultural employment from Child Labor Bulletin 102:
Children under the age of twelve, “may be employed outside of school hours with parental consent on a farm where employees are exempt from the federal minimum wage provisions.” For children twelve or 13, they “may be employed outside of school hours with written parental consent or on a farm where the minor's parent or person standing in place of the parents is also employed.” For 14- to 16-year-old teens, they can be employed outside of school hours in any agricultural occupation, except those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor.” The restrictions loosen quite a bit for 16-year-olds, as they may perform any farm job, including agricultural occupations declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor, at any time, including during school hours”. Quotes are from Child Labor Bulletin 102.
Rules were violated by hiring children under the age of 12 during school hours. Of course, if there are many pecans to harvest, working only hours after school would limit the amount of daylight for harvesting. However, FLSA was enacted to protect the educational opportunities of children as well as the conditions of employment that might be detrimental to their health or well-being. The Department of Labor felt that this was a clear wrong involving forced labor of children harming their educational opportunities, as well as exploiting them at a young age.
So, how are penalties this significant incurred?
1. Employing children under the age of 12 who should be in school.
2. Engaging in reoccurring violations.
“The Secretary initiated contempt proceedings based on Paragon's recurring violation of the Injunction during the years 2008 to 2013.” Al Stewart v. Paragon Contractors Corp., No. 2:06-cv-700-TC, at *2 (D. Utah Feb. 5, 2021
3. Litigating the matter regardless of clear facts and time.
The violations took place in 2012, yet ten years later in 2022, the matter is continuing with a federal district court judge. The court upheld the findings of the US Department of Labor as well as the department's Administrative Law Judge.
4. Violating court orders and the orders of the Department of Labor.
A wise saying applies here. “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge.” FLSA and ERISA are two pillars of employment law, and ERISA claims can sometimes be brought in wage and hour violation cases. If your client has a wage and hour claim that may have an ERISA claim lurking beneath, contact the ERISA attorneys at The Martin Law Group today.