Corporations and individuals who exploit foreign workers and take unfair advantage of them are shameful and can’t be tolerated. Some recent cases are prime example. E.J. Amusements, a New Hampshire-based carnival company, recently settled a class action suit filed by workers for underpaying wages and forcing employees pay H-2B visa costs that were to be paid by the employer. The suit, which settled for $900,000, involved approximately 200 employees. The suit claimed that the Amusement Company paid employees a flat rate, based on a 40-hour work week. However, the employees were working seven days a week for up to 14 hours per day assembling, dismantling, and operating amusement park rides, as well as carnivals and fairs in New England.
Many of the Plaintiffs in this case, including named Plaintiff Jorge Pilar Garcia, worked under an H-2B visa, and were required to pay for these visas, as well as travel expenses. According to the amended complaint, these costs should have been covered by their employer. The settlement class in this case included all minimum wage and overtime-eligible employees. Because of the magnitude of the problem in the U.S. I will go into more detail on working evidence and worker treatment. The following are some specific examples of how bad things can be for the employees.
In a criminal case involving a New York fair, 19 men worked 16 to 18 hours per day for 11 days in 2010. Even on Labor Day, the men worked 24 hours and were given only one 15-minute break and one meal. The men were threatened by their employer, Peter Karageorgis, that if the men quit, they would violate their visas and be deported. That happening would keep the men from ever being able to legally enter the country. All of them were recruited with a temporary H-2B visa.
One of the workers, Samuel Rosales Rios, was promised $10.71 an hour. Instead, he was paid $1 per hour. Rosales Rio lived in the lodging provided by Karageorgis. A single trailer was provided by Karageorgis where he expected nine to 10 men to sleep, some even sharing beds. Because of the substandard conditions, Rosales Rio became dehydrated and developed infections from bed-bugs and fleas.
The bed bug and flea bites caused Rosales Rios to develop sores. Rosales Rios spent several days and nights of working in the food stand and in 90-degree temperatures. Because Karageorgis was afraid that customers would see Rosales Rios scratching his sores, he sent him back to the trailer to keep him out of the customers’ sight.
Rosales Rios was treated by the fair infirmary for dehydration. The medical staff was so concerned about Rosales Rios’ infected bites and sores that they transported him by ambulance to the hospital from the fair grounds. This led to a complaint being filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. Rosales Rios received a $5,000 settlement from a criminal action against Karageorgis. Peter Karagoergis was fined $50,500 and was ordered to pay 13 workers back pay totaling $115,900 by the U.S. Department of Labor. Karageorgis also paid $85,000 to 10 workers after prosecutors dropped his criminal case.
Mistreatment of migrant workers doesn’t happen only at fairs and carnivals. Signal International, headquartered in Mobile, recruited nearly 500 Indian men to do marine fabrication work in Orange, Texas, such as welding and pipefitting after the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. These Indian workers had to pay nearly $20,000 in fees in order to work for Signal in the United States. These Indian employees moved to the United States under the false pretense that Signal was working on obtaining them green cards and permanent residency. Many of these men went into a large amount of debt to complete the process to come to the United States.
In February, five of these workers were awarded more than $14 million by a jury in a human trafficking suit against Signal. There is still a pending class action suit for the majority of Signal employees. Currently, the five workers who were awarded the $14 million settlement have filed a motion for entry of final judgment. This would allow the appeal process to begin without waiting for the rest of the original Plaintiffs to obtain judgments.
Signal was found liable for labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering, forced labor, discrimination, harassing living conditions, and breach of contract. In regard to one of the five workers, the jury also found the Defendants were liable for false imprisonment, emotional distress, and retaliation. In addition to this suit, the workers in both actions are also pursuing Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) claims. The Southern Poverty Law Center handled this case and the lawyers involved did a very good job in this case.
Human trafficking is not only a deplorable and reprehensible crime, but the law also provides civil remedies for victims. Lawyers at Beasley Allen are currently investigating instances of human trafficking very much like those described above. If you have any questions or would like to speak with a lawyer, contact Andrew Brashier, a lawyer in our firm’s Consumer Fraud and Commercial Litigation Section, at 334-269-2343 or Andrew.Brashier@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Law360.com; www.cnycentral.com; www.syracuse.com; www.mercurynews.com and www.providencejournal.com
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