WASHINGTON (AP) — The Labor Department violated federal law when it lowered wages and worsened working conditions in the herding industry without notice or comment, an appeals court ruled Friday.
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, an agency is generally required to publish notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register and to accept public comments on its proposals.
In a 3-0 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the Labor Department had done neither.
The appeals court returned the case to a federal judge who will determine how quickly the Labor Department might be able to issue new regulations for herding operations.
In 2011, the department updated procedures setting minimum wages and working conditions employers must offer U.S. sheepherders, goat-herders and cattle herders before hiring foreign labor.
The appeals court decision will force the Labor Department to reconsider "the unjust employment standards that it set for sheep and cattle herders," said Julie Murray, an attorney at the advocacy group Public Citizen and counsel for the herders who filed the lawsuit.
The ruling "is a victory for U.S. and foreign herders alike, who toil for unconscionably low pay and are often forced to live in abysmal housing conditions," Murray added.
Labor Department spokesman Egan Reich said the agency "does not have anything to share on the decision at this time.
Appeals Judge Janice Rogers Brown, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote the opinion. The other two judges on the case were David Tatel, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, and Patricia Millett, an appointee of President Barack Obama.