Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and his family business failed to pay dozens of field workers for overtime work, according to a class-action lawsuit filed this week.
The suit was filed Wednesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court by Cipriano Ponce and Carlos Farias, who worked for Agro-Jal Farming Enterprises, which operates in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Besides Maldonado and Agro-Jal, defendants named in the suit include Maldonado’s father, Abel Maldonado Sr., and brother, Frank Maldonado.
Allen Hutkin, the San Luis Obispo attorney who filed the lawsuit, said the suit was filed on behalf of the two plaintiffs and more than 100 other past and present employees similarly situated.
“We believe the practice we’re alleging was widespread,” he said.
Claims made in civil complaints only represent the plaintiff’s side.
A message left with Frank Maldonado, president of Agro-Jal, was not returned Friday.
According to the complaint, the plaintiffs were denied overtime wages, not reimbursed for expenses and not provided meal and rest periods. The complaint also alleges that the defendants did not maintain adequate records to show employees how many hours they worked.
Ponce and Farias were field workers for Agro-Jal, the suit states, working 13-hour days six days a week and six-hour days on the seventh day. Under state law, agricultural workers must be paid overtime for time worked over 10 hours during the first six work days and anything over 8 hours on the seventh work day.
The plaintiffs, however, contend that they were not paid a minimum wage and overtime or double-time wages for all hours worked.
Ponce was employed by Agro-Jal from 1984 to 2014, according to the suit, while Farias worked there from 2008 through April of 2012.
While the suit focuses on the past four years, Hutkin said he believes the violations have been committed longer.
Maldonado was once a rising star in the Republican Party, and he served in both the state Assembly and Senate. After an unsuccessful bid for state controller in 2006, Maldonado was appointed lieutenant governor in 2009 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. After Gavin Newsom defeated him in the race for lieutenant governor in 2010, Maldonado unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and briefly ran for governor in 2014 before dropping out.
While running for Congress, amid allegations that Agro-Jal owed more than $100,000 in taxes, Maldonado said he parted ways with the business in 2012.
The son of immigrant field workers, Maldonado grew up picking strawberries with his parents, according to his biography on SmartVoter.org. He studied crop science at Cal Poly but did not graduate. After his family grew frustrated with government bureaucracy while applying for a building permit, he became mayor of Santa Maria at age 26.
He told his family’s story at a speech during the 2000 Republican National Convention and was courted by the George W. Bush campaign to appear with the presidential candidate during multiple campaign stops.
In 2010, Agro-Jal business also made headlines for safety violations. According to a Los Angeles Times story from 2010, Maldonado said the violations were the result of overzealous regulators.