Pinoys fall victim to trafficking
OKLAHOMA CITY— Owners of an Oklahoma hotel and other businesses engaged in a human trafficking scheme that lured workers from the Philippines promising good wages but instead paid them less than the minimum wage, according to a lawsuit.
Three Filipino workers brought to Clinton, Oklahoma, about 128 kilometers west of Oklahoma City, paid thousands of dollars in recruiting fees to cover visa-related costs that should be incurred by sponsoring US employers, according to the complaint filed last week in federal court.
The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups, said the immigrants were threatened with physical harm when they complained that their compensation didn’t meet contractual obligations. It also sought class-action status.
Walter and Carolyn Schumacher, who are married and own a Holiday Inn Express, a steakhouse and a waterpark in Clinton, denied the allegations, their attorney said. “Mr. and Mrs. Schumacher are heartsick about these allegations,” Kevin Donelson said.
He said he believed the allegations would be proven false once the case was resolved.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesperson and an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson said they were not aware of the case. A US Department of Labor spokesperson said he was not aware of an investigation into the case.
Donelson said neither he nor the Schumachers had been contacted by any federal agency or prosecutor about an investigation.
Nonprofit law firm Equal Justice Center and employee rights group Legal Aid at Work joined the ACLU of Oklahoma in filing the lawsuit. It sought an unspecified amount in punitive and compensatory damages for the workers because they were allegedly paid less than their contract allowed and less than the federal minimum wage.
The lawsuit contended that from 2008-14, the Schumachers’ companies applied to the federal Department of Labor to employ more than 100 foreign workers.
It alleged that workers recruited for housekeeping jobs at the hotel were paid $4.25 per room cleaned. Servers at the steakhouse made $2 per hour plus tips, and housekeepers and servers at the waterpark made $1 to $2 per hour less than promised. Low pay and short workweeks meant the immigrants couldn’t repay debts they incurred just to get to the US, the lawsuit said.
One plaintiff worked at the hotel, one at both the hotel and the steakhouse, and one at the waterpark, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said Walter Schumacher intimidated employees by saying he was carrying a gun when he picked them up from the airport. The filing also claimed that although the Schumachers promised they would pay for round-trip airfare to and from the Philippines, Walter Schumacher said the only way he would send anyone back was “in a box.”
Donelson said the Schumachers denied “the substance of the allegations and what took place.”