Sep 3, 2020
Michigan COVID-19 testing mandate stands after appeals court ruling

A nine-page filing Sept. 2 by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against farmworkers and farm owners, plaintiffs in a case against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

According to a report by Michigan Farm News, previously, plaintiffs argued the state’s emergency order requiring COVID-19 testing at certain-sized operations infringed on migrant workers’ civil rights. When U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan upheld state testing requirements in August, farm employers had until Aug. 24 to implement mandatory testing and protocols.

Grand Rapids-based law firm Varnum LLP first filed a complaint Aug. 12 on behalf of the farmworkers. Later, they filed a preliminary injunction, which the appeals court denied, in part, because “proffered evidence is insufficient.”

“(C)onsidering the effects of government action on various racial groups is not evidence of improper Purpose,” the court wrote in the filing.

“Put simply, Plaintiffs’ argument requires us to view disparate impact as evidence of discriminatory motive,” the court continued. “That is inconsistent with longstanding Supreme Court precedent requiring those asserting equal protection violations to show both impact and intent.”

Previously, Michigan Farm News reported Michigan has about 75,000 Latino farmworkers. Plaintiffs in the case include True Blue Berry Management LLC, Smeltzer Orchards Co. LLC, and six farm workers.

“We are obviously disappointed in the Sixth Circuit opinion,” said Rob Anderson, manager of government relations for Michigan Farm Bureau. “We will wait to hear what the next steps are for the plaintiff farmworkers and employers. We just received the opinion ourselves but the ultimate decision to move forward is that of the plaintiffs and their counsel at Varnum LLP.”

Anderson said that despite the targeting of certain employees in the ag workforce, “Our growers will continue to provide safe workplaces for their employees, as they have since the beginning of the pandemic.”


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