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Vasquez v. Glassboro Service Association Inc.

Decided: June 10, 1980.

NATIVIDAD VASQUEZ, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
GLASSBORO SERVICE ASSOCIATION, INC., A NEW JERSEY CORPORATION; JOSEPH GAROFALO, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS MANAGER OF THE GLASSBORO SERVICE ASSOCIATION; JOHN L. CARUSO, INDIVIDUALLY, AND IN HIS CAPACITY OF ASSISTANT MANAGER OF THE GLASSBORO SERVICE ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



On certification to Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 159 N.J. Super. 218 (1978).

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler and Pollock. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Pollock, J.

Pollock

The primary issue is whether a farm labor service that employs migrant farmworkers from Puerto Rico and provides them with living quarters must dispossess a worker, not by self-help, but in a judicial proceeding after terminating his employment.

Natividad Vasquez, a Puerto Rican farmworker, instituted this action after he was dispossessed without notice following the termination of his employment by Glassboro Service Association, a farm labor service organization. Glassboro had employed Vasquez pursuant to a contract negotiated with the Puerto Rican Department of Labor. The Chancery Division ruled that Glassboro should not have dispossessed Vasquez by self-help, but in a summary dispossess proceeding. Vasquez v. Glassboro Service Association, 159 N.J. Super. 310 (1976). The Appellate Division affirmed. 159 N.J. Super. 218 (1978). We granted certification. 79 N.J. 478 (1979).

We hold that a farm labor service may not use self-help, but must proceed in a judicial action to dispossess a farmworker who remains in possession of his living quarters after termination of his employment. We reach that conclusion although we hold that a migrant farmworker is not a tenant or otherwise included within N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(m) pertaining to the dispossession of certain residential tenants. We hold further that the failure of the Glassboro contract to provide a migrant farmworker with a reasonable opportunity to find shelter before dispossession is against the public policy of the State, and we imply into the contract a provision for a reasonable time to find alternative housing. In resolving a dispute between a farmworker and a labor service, a court may grant time to the worker to find housing, direct the labor service to assist him in obtaining

housing or provide him with return passage to Puerto Rico, or order other appropriate relief.

I

Although our analysis is based on facts which occurred in 1976, there is no indication that the essential facts, including the contract, relationships of the parties, or working conditions have changed since that time. Glassboro is a non-profit corporation comprised of farmers who contracted with Glassboro for migrant farm labor. The farmers called Glassboro as they needed workers to pick crops, and Glassboro transported workers from its labor camp to the farms. The length of time that a worker stayed at a farm varied, depending primarily on the time needed to pick a crop. Glassboro paid the worker his wages, and the farmer paid Glassboro for those wages plus a commission for Glassboro's services.

Only men were hired; the workers' families remained in Puerto Rico. Glassboro paid a farmworker $2.40 per hour and charged him $23 per week for meals. The worker agreed to work eight hours a day for six days a week, plus overtime as mutually agreed.

The 1976 contract stated that a worker was to pay for his transportation from Puerto Rico. If he completed his contract, he would be reimbursed for the cost of transportation from and provided return transportation to Puerto Rico. If the worker did not fulfill his contract, Glassboro was not obliged to reimburse him for the cost of transportation. Although the contract provided that Glassboro would furnish a non-negotiable airplane ticket to Puerto Rico for a worker who became physically unfit, there was no comparable provision for a worker who was fired. The contract period was for 28 weeks, or until December 1, whichever came first.

The contract provided that, if an employee was to be discharged, a hearing was to occur no later than five days after the employee was given notice of termination. The contract did not

require a minimum amount of time to elapse between notice and termination of employment.

The contract provided further for administrative review within the Puerto Rican Department of Labor whenever a worker had a complaint "regarding the breach, application, interpretation or compliance" with the contract. If the Secretary of Labor determined that Glassboro had "not adequately remedied the complaint", the Secretary could represent the worker and sue Glassboro.

Pursuant to the contract, Glassboro supplied living quarters for workers at its labor camp in New Jersey. Those quarters consisted of barracks housing up to 30 men. Each worker received a mattress, bedding, and a locker. The barracks were equipped with common toilets, showers, and lavatories. Although some farmers charged the workers for housing while the workers were at the farms, Glassboro did not impose any extra charge for housing at its labor camp. The contract did not require a migrant farmworker to live at Glassboro's labor camp. Nonetheless, the parties contemplated that the farmworker would reside at the labor camp.

In 1976, Vasquez was recruited in Puerto Rico and came to New Jersey to work for Glassboro. According to Glassboro's foreman, Vasquez's work was not satisfactory. On July 19, 1976, the foreman told Vasquez that he was to be discharged. A few hours later Vasquez had his "hearing" with the foreman and a field representative of the Puerto Rican Department of Labor. Thereafter the foreman decided to complete the discharge, a decision Vasquez does not challenge in this action. Although there were vacant spaces at the Glassboro barracks, Vasquez was not permitted to remain overnight. The foreman told him to gather his belongings and leave.

Unable to speak English and without funds to return to Puerto Rico, Vasquez sought the assistance of the Farmworkers Corporation, a federally funded non-profit corporation dedicated to the needs of farmworkers. He also consulted with the

Farmworkers Rights Project of the Civil Liberties Education and Action Fund of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. A Rutgers law student returned with Vasquez to the camp and requested that Vasquez be allowed to remain overnight. The request was refused. Vasquez stayed with a friend who was participating in a job training program conducted by the Farmworkers Corporation.

The Farmworkers Rights Project filed a complaint on July 22, 1976, seeking an order permitting Vasquez to reenter his living quarters and enjoining defendants from depriving him of the use of the quarters except through judicial process. The complaint also sought damages, but Vasquez has abandoned that demand.

The trial court interpreted a provision of N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 to apply to Vasquez. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1 provides that a landlord may not remove a tenant except by establishing one of enumerated grounds as good cause. N.J.S.A. 2A:18-61.1(m) states good cause exists if "[T]he landlord or owner conditioned the tenancy upon and in consideration for the tenant's employment by the landlord or owner as superintendent, janitor or in some other capacity and such employment is being terminated." The court found Vasquez to be included within the phrase "in some other capacity", Vasquez, supra, 159 N.J. Super. at 313, 387 A.2d 1245, and ruled that Glassboro reinstate Vasquez to his living quarters.

Although Vasquez has since found housing, other workers have been evicted, one at 3:00 a.m. Shelter for dispossessed migrant farmworkers remains scarce. The Farmworkers Corporation estimates it provides emergency housing for approximately 500 workers each season.

Under the contract, once a worker's employment was ended, he had no right to stay at the camp. Glassboro had no obligation to arrange for alternative shelter. As with Vasquez, within the same day, Glassboro could notify a worker of the termination of his employment, meet with a representative of the

Puerto Rican Department of Labor, complete the termination of the employment, and dispossess the employee.

The parties have urged that the dispossession of migrant farmworkers is likely to recur and have requested that we not treat the case as moot. We agree that the public interest requires that we resolve whether a migrant farmworker should be dispossessed from his living quarters through a judicial proceeding. See Dunellen Bd. of Ed. v. Dunellen Ed. Ass'n, 64 N.J. 17, 22 (1973); Busik v. Levine, 63 N.J. 351, 364 (1973), app. dism. 414 U.S. 1106, 94 S. Ct. 831, 38 L. Ed. 2d 733 (1973).

II

At common law, one who occupied premises as an employee of the owner and received the use of the premises as part compensation for his services or under a contract of employment was not considered a tenant. See Scottish Rite Co. v. Salkowitz, 119 N.J.L. 558 (E. & A. 1938) (caretaker who received monthly salary and use of premises was not a tenant but an employee who became a trespasser when his employment ended); Gray v. Reynolds, 67 N.J.L. 169 (Sup.Ct.1901) (agreement for one year between owner and sharecropper does not create landlord-tenant relationship); McQuade v. Emmons, 38 N.J.L. 397 (Sup.Ct.1876) (employee who received $25 per month and use of tenant house is a trespasser after end of employment); Schuman v. Zurawell, 24 N.J.Misc. 180 (Cir.Ct.1946) (apartment ...


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