US appeals court upholds state COVID-19 testing requirements for farm workers

Posted at 10:36 PM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 22:36:38-04

LANSING, Mich. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the sixth circuit upheld the state’s power Thursday to require agricultural employers and housing providers to test for COVID-19 among workers who are particularly at risk.

The complaint against the state in Castillo v. Whitmer was that requiring COVID-19 testing at certain-sized operations infringed on migrant workers’ civil rights.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan upheld the requirements last month, and farm employers had until Aug. 24 to implement the required testing and safety protocols.

“(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. That is inconsistent with longstanding Supreme Court precedent requiring those asserting equal protection violations to show both impact and intent.”

“We are obviously disappointed in the Sixth Circuit opinion,” said Rob Anderson, Michigan Farm Bureau's Manager of Government Relations. “We will wait to hear what the next steps are for the plaintiff farmworkers and employers. 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 agriculture workforce, “Our growers will continue to provide safe workplaces for their employees, as they have since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Read the court’s full opinion here.