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