A federal jury found Wednesday that The GEO Group you will have to pay the minimum wage – instead of a dollar a day – to detained immigrants who perform tasks such as cooking or cleaning inside your detention center for profit in Washington State.
The verdict came in federal district court in Tacoma during the second trial on the issue. The first process concluded in June without the jury reaching a determination.
“This multibillion dollar corporation illegally exploited the people it detains to line its pockets,” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in an emailed statement. “Today’s victory sends a clear message: Washington will not tolerate corporations getting rich by violating the rights of the people.”
Now, The jury must consider how much money is owed to the detained immigrants who worked at the facilities – a figure that is expected to run into the millions of dollars. and Federal Judge Robert Bryan will determine how much The Geo Group will have to pay the state of Washington for allegations that the company unfairly enriched itself.
Ferguson sued The Geo Group in 2017, alleging that the Florida-based company unfairly profited by running the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma at the expense of captive workers.
That same year, another lawsuit was filed on behalf of the workers, demanding late payments.
The judge, who rejected several attempts by GEO to dismiss the lawsuits, consolidated the cases for trial.
GEO did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment, but the company is expected to file an appeal.
The company maintained that the detainees were not employees under the Washington Minimum Wage Law. Even if they were, the company said, it would be illegally discriminatory for Washington to force it to pay them the minimum wage – currently $ 13.69 an hour – when the state does not pay minimum wage to inmates who work in its own prisons or detention centers.
The definition of “employee” in Washington’s minimum wage law is ambiguous, since it includes anyone that an employer allows to work, regardless of immigration or legal status. The law states that residents of a “state, county, or municipal” detention facility are not entitled to the minimum wage for the work they perform.
The detention center did not fit the exemption as it was a private, for-profit facility and not a “state, county, or municipal facility,” argued attorneys for the entity and the detainees.
The Northwest Detention Center houses people who are in custody as the federal government decides whether to deport them or review their immigration status. It has capacity for up to 1,575 detainees, making it one of the largest immigration prisons in the country, although the population has greatly decreased during the coronavirus pandemic.
During the first trial, GEO recognized that it could pay detainees more if it wanted to. In 2018, the company had a profit of $ 18.6 million on the facility. Paying detainees the minimum wage would cost him 3.4 million.
Washington appears to be the only state to sue a private detention facility contractor for failing to pay minimum wage to detained immigrants. However, similar lawsuits have been filed on behalf of detained migrants in other states, including New Mexico, Colorado and California, with the aim of forcing GEO and another major private company, CoreCivic, to pay minimum wage to their detainees.
A federal judge rejected the lawsuit filed by former inmates at CoreCivic’s Cibola detention center in New Mexico. The decision was upheld by a federal appeals court panel in March.
“Persons in custody – like the appellants – are not in a relationship between employer and employee, but rather in a relationship between the detainee and the detainee,” the panel wrote.
US negotiates compensation to separate migrant families
The United States Department of Justice is in talks to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to each child and parent who were separated In adherence to a policy implemented during the presidency of Donald Trump that separated migrant families on the southern border of the country, a person familiar with the negotiations to resolve the lawsuits reported on Thursday.
The newspaper The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that the government considered payments of about 450 thousand dollars to each person that was affected by the measure. A person familiar with the discussions commented that that figure was still under consideration, but that it had been modified, although not drastically. The person spoke on condition of anonymity as the discussions are private.
Discussions are ongoing and there is no guarantee that the two parties will reach an agreement.
About 5,500 children were separated from their parents under the “zero tolerance” policy of Trump, under which the parents were separated from their children to be criminally prosecuted for crossing the border illegally, according to documents delivered to the court in a federal case in San Diego. Inadequate tracking systems resulted in many families being estranged for a long time. Payments are for the purpose of compensating for psychological trauma.
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