Fowler Packing Co. v. Lanier, 2016 WL 7321371 (9th Cir. 2016)

In 2015, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 1513 in response to two state appellate court decisions that exposed employers to significant and unexpected minimum wage liability for piece-rate workers. The statute created a “safe harbor” that gave employers an affirmative defense against the new claims so long as the employer made back payments under certain conditions. However, at the behest of the United Farm Workers of America union (the “UFW”), the legislature included specific “carve-outs” from the “safe harbor” for three or four specific employers who were involved in then-pending litigation against the UFW. Those employers (plaintiffs in this case) challenged the statute on the grounds that it violates the Bill of Attainder Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The district court dismissed the employers’ complaint, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that plaintiffs’ claim under the Equal Protection Clause should not have been dismissed because “the only conceivable explanation for AB 1513’s carve-outs is that they were necessary to procure the UFW’s support in passing that legislation… [and] that justification would not survive even rational basis scrutiny.”