Valley produce, farm accused of exploiting employees

A civil lawsuit filed Monday against a Weslaco produce and agriculture company alleges that the owners underpaid a 12-year-old employee, denied him payroll and failed to keep proper payroll records, in violation of state and federal laws.

Javier Segovia Mendiola worked for Hartley’s Produce and B&H Farms, both owned by father and son Kenneth and Keven Hartley, from 2010 until 2022, when he was laid off. after the lawsuit was filed by Alexandra Vail Kohnert-Yount, Attorney for Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

During that time, Segovia lived in a small house on the Hartley’s Weslaco Ranch estate and performed several farm and domestic duties while earning an hourly wage of $3 to $5 an hour, according to the lawsuit.

Kenneth Hartley did not return calls requesting comment.

As employees, Segovia irrigated fields, laid irrigation pipes, weeded, harvested, bagged and stored crops, and built, cut and bundled grass or hay for animal feed.

Segovia also performed routine landscaping, mowing the lawn, feeding and tending pens with cattle, chickens and peacocks, and clearing debris from driveways, the basketball court and the swimming pool around the defendants’ homes, the lawsuit alleged.

After hunting trips, Segovia also removed shell casings and cleaned up bird carcasses.

Although he worked Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, Segovia was on call 24 hours a day and worked overtime “every or nearly every work week during his tenure,” the lawsuit alleges.

His weekly salary prior to 2018 ranged from $120 to $160. From 2018 to 2022, weekly payments increased to $160, except for the last three months of his tenure, when he was paid $200 per week.

“At all times relevant to this action, Mr. Segovia was paid below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for every hour worked during every or nearly every week that he worked,” the lawsuit reads.

Lawyers claimed that overtime was not paid for one and a half times either.

In the final years of Segovia’s employment, Hartley Produce applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the Small Business Administration to help the companies retain their workforces during the global health crisis.

In total, Hartley Produce, LLC received $158,000 under the program, although the loans have since been paid or forgiven data from federal records. Kevin Hartley also received a $11,617 loan to cover wages for his cotton growing business.

The defendants also failed to give Segovia its payslips as required by state law and failed to keep payslips as required by federal law.

“The defendants knowingly and knowingly failed to issue payslips and paid Mr. Segovia in cash with intent to violate the AWPA, FLSA and TMWA and with intent to conceal such violations,” the lawsuit reads, citing the Migrants and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Texas Minimum Wage Act.

Posters describing rights under such laws were also not made accessible to Segovia.

Attorneys described the defendants’ actions, which violate state and federal law, as “premeditious.”

The lawsuit is seeking compensation for unpaid wages and a jury declaration of wrongdoing by the defendants.

A response from the defendants and any court hearings have yet to be filed or scheduled.

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