Casey Houweling, former owner of Houweling’s Tomatoes in Camarillo, California, is being sued by the California Agricultural Network (CAN), a collection of self-insured employers in the agricultural industry. They claim Houweling left the insurance network while owing more than $3 million in workers’ compensation claims. CAN was founded as a non-profit in 2004. Houweling’s Nurseries Oxnard became a member of the network in 2006 and stayed on until October 2021.

The lawsuit also claims that Houweling was engaged in extreme self-favoritism when his company sold the 160-acre Camarillo greenhouse property to a cannabis grower last year for roughly $93 million. Houweling shared that while he was involved in the sale of the property, he was not involved in laying off the workforce, workers’ compensation claims, or any other operational matters. Houweling’s closed its tomato and cucumber operation and began laying off its 486 employees in August 2021 after cannabis grower Glass House agreed to buy the property.

According to the lawsuit from the California Agricultural Network, more than 100 of those employees filed workers’ compensation claims after being laid off. Because Houweling’s Nurseries Oxnard had ceased its membership with CAN by the time those claims came, the insurance network says it was left to pay the claims, which total more than $3 million.

Since leaving CAN and selling the facility, Houweling has started a new company to farm tomatoes in the greenhouses sold to Glass House, the lawsuit states. That company, Houweling’s Camarillo, has hired back many of the laid-off employees, the suit states.

The California Agricultural Network is seeking compensatory damages plus interest on the $3 million that it says it has paid in claims, as well as punitive damages. The network is being represented by Roxborough, Pomerance, Nye & Adreani, a firm in Los Angeles.

Source: Pacific Business Times