Three mi­grants’ law­suit against busi­ness own­ers cites pay, threats of harm

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

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 trans­ported to Clin­ton, about 80 miles west of Ok­la­homa City, paid thou­sands of dol­lars in re­cruit­ing fees to cover visa-re­lated costs that should be in­curred by spon­sor­ing U.S. em­ploy­ers, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint filed Wed­nes­day in fed­eral court.

The law­suit, filed by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and other groups, says the im­mi­grants were threat­ened with phys­i­cal harm when they com­plained that their com­pen­sa­tion didn’t meet con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions. It also seeks class-ac­tion sta­tus.

Wal­ter and Carolyn Schu­macher, a mar­ried cou­ple who own a Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press, steak­house and wa­ter park in Clin­ton where the plain­tiffs say they worked, didn’t re­ply to calls Thurs­day seek­ing com­ment. It wasn’t known if they have a lawyer.

An FBI spokesman and an Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment spokesman said they were not aware of the case and that they would not be able to com­ment on whether an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der­way.

A U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor spokesman said he was not aware of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case.

The Equal Jus­tice Cen­ter, a non­profit law firm, and em­ployee-rights group Le­gal Aid at Work joined the ACLU of Ok­la­homa in fil­ing the law­suit.

It seeks an un­spec­i­fied amount in puni­tive and com­pen­satory dam­ages for the work­ers be­cause it al­leges they were paid less than their con­tract al­lows and less than the fed­eral min­i­mum wage.

The law­suit al­leges 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 wa­ter park 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 U.S., the suit says.

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