An Orange County attorney filed a lawsuit Monday accusing a Kern County farmer of hiring illegal immigrants to undercut his client’s contract to provide blueberry pickers during harvest.
The suit on behalf of farm-labor contractor AgriLabor is the first in a series of suits that attorney David Klehm of Anaheim says he has undertaken since quitting his stable job as a medical-malpractice lawyer two months ago to take on California companies that he says skirt immigration law.
Klehm, 42, said his goal isn’t to go after undocumented immigrants but rather the employers that make it tough for businesses to compete if they hire workers legally. Klehm, whose office is in Santa Ana, started a Web site in June with help from anti-illegal-immigration activists to reach out to companies that say they are being outbid for jobs or losing work because their legal labor costs are higher.
“I am representing companies that have lost business or are going out of business because of the significant impact this issue has on their bottom line,” Klehm said. “It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on politically – you’ve got to support someone playing by the rules.”
According to a copy of the suit filed in Kern County Superior Court, AgriLabor – a division of Los Angeles-based Global Horizons Inc. – had a contract to provide farmworkers to help Munger Brothers LLC pick blueberries over a nine-week harvest from April to June.
Klehm, a former Marine who grew up in Pittsburgh, said he became concerned about the impact of illegal immigration on local hospitals when he spoke with doctors during his malpractice work. He wanted to get to the heart of the issue and said he was surprised to learn how little litigation had been filed against employers suspected of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.
His Web site, , reports receiving thousands of hits since it was launched in June.
Klehm said he hasn’t found any other California cases that use antitrust laws – which prohibit companies from conspiring to prevent competition – when dealing with immigration-related issues.
Neither has Robert Badal, a Los Angeles attorney specializing in antitrust law.
“I think this is a novel approach using some fairly standard Cartwright Act jurisprudence,” Badal said, referring to California’s antitrust law.
“This issue is going to keep percolating up in a number of ways, and this is one company’s way of dealing with it.”