Labor Trafficking Litigation
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people from around the world are recruited to work in the United States on various work visas. The work can range from very skilled, professional positions to unskilled manual labor. The majority of positions filled by migrant workers are low-wage jobs in agriculture and landscaping, nursing and hospitality work in hotels and restaurants.
Legal aliens entering the U.S. can be sponsored with a different visa, depending on the position and work, though all workers have rights by U.S. law. Any employer or recruiter engaging in abusive and unlawful work programs can be brought to justice and lawsuits may be filed to compensate the victims.
When immigrant and migrant workers face fraud, discrimination, coercion, retaliation, forced labor, indentured servitude, or debt bondage, they may locate an employment attorney and consider legal action.
The international labor recruitment industry shows a history of abusive tactics to prey on workers. The stories from migrant workers and immigrants offered positions in the U.S. sound eerily similar, often nightmarish.
Some immigrants pay high recruitment and visa fees as well as travel costs only to find that when they reach their new job in the U.S. that the work program is not what is what they were told. Many workers are forced into paying off a considerable debt at a low wage for many years. Labor recruiters charge very high fees, frequently in lump sums.
To pay job recruiters for a chance at American employment, workers sometimes borrow at high interest rates and at the mercy of their new employers. High debt and an abusive work environment leads to severe troubles financially and emotionally.
Often, workers do not know their rights, and have never heard of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a relatively new law that aims to protect vulnerable workers.
Many immigrant and migrant workers are threatened about seeking legal assistance and leaving the job. Not only that, but most workers struggle with race, language, and sexual discrimination.
Additionally, most internationally recruited workers are bound to a single employer through their visas, so there are few options for changes. If they leave their position early, they face blacklists and may not even get a chance at other work in the U.S.
JOB PLACEMENT VIOLATIONS
Migrant job placement programs and immigrant work placement in the farm and hospitality industries can result in great opportunities or may be legal and humanitarian disasters. The hospitality industry in the U.S. relies heavily on migrant workers and immigrants willing to work low-paying jobs.
But there are laws in place to protect immigrant workers in Ohio, and many employers ignore the law and take advantage of migrant employees, resulting in numerous immigrant employment lawsuits each year.
Immigrants are protected from employment discrimination by laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Employees who have experienced unlawful employer behavior should contact a labor attorney for a free and confidential consultation.
Classes of plaintiffs may be able to file immigrant employment lawsuits against foreign labor recruiters and reach settlements that provides compensation for employees in the farm and hospitality industries.
Immigrant Abuse Lawsuits
Leisure and hospitality jobs account for a large percentage of employment across the Midwest. These jobs, filled with migrant workers in restaurants and hotels, are generally low-paying and many workers are illegally employed. Immigrants make up about 13 percent of the population and make up more than 30 percent of hotel workers and over 20 percent of food service workers.
There are over a million hospitality workers across the country without legal paperwork. Many other farm workers in Ohio and across the country file immigrant employment lawsuits following employer negligence, unsafe workplaces, unpaid wages and unpaid overtime.
The Lyon Firm is dedicated to representing immigrant workers in illegal job placement programs and migrant positions in the farm and hospitality industries. Labor Laws protect immigrant workers regardless of legality, and class action employment lawsuits can recover rightful compensation for migrant workers.
Labor Recruiter Litigation
Labor recruiters overseas offer jobs that span almost every industry, with most positions landing in agriculture and hospitality. Last year, the government issued around 350,000 temporary work visas.
Labor attorneys often focus on U.S. employers exploiting foreign workers, but the issue of immigrant exploitation begins many times before workers step foot on U.S. soil. Middlemen and labor recruiters can be dangerous and manipulative. Labor recruiter violations can range from wage theft to human trafficking.
Labor brokers and foreign recruiters operate as independent contractors, and are almost impossible to hold accountable for their actions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has brought civil cases against negligent employers who hire and work with recruiters when workers are exploited and treated unfairly.
Labor brokers are fairly common in Mexico, India, and the Philippines. In a recent case in New York, Filipina nurses and the New York State Nurses Association are considering filing a labor lawsuit against a hospital for allegedly forcing hundreds of Filipino nurses to continue working under threat of severe harm.
Trafficking Victims Protection Act
Labor trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. The terms are vague and dark, as are many of the positions that workers find in job placement programs.
Workers regularly face employer and recruiter coercion, threats, blacklisting and severe debt. Before the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was put into place, there was no Federal law to protect victims of human trafficking and unlawful migrant worker programs.
This sort of trafficking is committed by large, organized, sophisticated groups, and they typically are difficult to prosecute. However, new laws in place aim to protect immigrant and overseas workers and to prosecute traffickers of persons under stiff Federal penalties.
Protection and assistance for victims of trafficking include making available housing, education, health care, new visas and job training so victims can rebuild their lives in the U.S. The TVPA law also makes victims eligible for the Witness Protection Program.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act also created new law enforcement tools to strengthen the prosecution and of human traffickers. If a human trafficking crime results in death or if the crime includes kidnapping, child offenses or sexual abuse, the trafficker could be sentenced to life in prison.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 authorized more than $200 million to combat human trafficking. The act provides resources for the 18,000 to 20,000 victims of human trafficking in the United States every year. The most common industries and positions recruiting from overseas include:
- Hospitality—hotels, motels, resorts, golf courses
- Domestic servitude
- Assisted living
- Strip clubs and massage parlors
- Nail salons and spas
Foreign Labor Recruiter Abuse
Workers from overseas take huge financial and psychological risks when they sign on with foreign labor recruiters. They put their lives in the hands of recruitment agencies, and there are many unknowns regarding their future employment situation.
Farm workers, nurses, students, and many hotel workers are at risk when hired from overseas. The protections offered to foreign and migrant workers are usually limited, and when workers find themselves in a precarious situation, legal action may be the only way out.
Common foreign labor schemes involve deceptive employee marketing to get workers to an employer. Labor recruitment violations are reported each year, including the following:
- Withheld Wages
- Unpaid Wages
- Lower Wage than what was initially promised
- Misrepresented Jobs
- Menial labor assigned for what was marketed as skilled labor
- Poor living quarters provided
- Illegal debt-bondage schemes
- Hidden high recruitment fees
- Sexual and racial discrimination
- Physical and emotional abuse
- Illegal labor contracts
- Unpaid overtime
- Forced Labor
- Paycheck deductions for visa fees—nonimmigrant visa, H-2A visa (agriculture), H-2B visa (construction, hotels, and so forth), J-1 visa (student working as seasonal employees), B1, B2 (domestic workers)
Labor Recruiter Lawsuits
It doesn’t matter what position a worker has in the United States–we all have rights as employees. Employers can make some workers feel like they have no choice but to work for very little, and make employees feel stuck in unfair and illegal work programs. But there is a way out.
Victims of labor recruitment violations and labor trafficking can contact labor attorney and file labor recruiter abuse lawsuits to recover lost wages, emotional suffering, actual damages, and punitive damages against the fraudulent employers and foreign labor recruiters. Over 40 states have enacted legislation that allow migrant workers and overseas employees to sue their traffickers.
Overseas workers can be extremely vulnerable and employers take unfair advantage of workers. The vast majority think they have no legal recourse, though legal action may be possible.
In addition to common recruiter abuses, most foreign workers are denied other basic labor protections such as workers’ compensation, health insurance, union membership and disability insurance.
In a high-profile lawsuit filed against a labor recruiter, Gulf Coast shipyards were targeted in an illegal labor recruitment scheme in order to fix oil rigs following Hurricane Katrina. Signal International, Inc. used a labor recruiter to almost 500 workers from India.
The workers were promised a green card, but once in America the workers were exploited and forced to live in deplorable conditions and worked for a low wage.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a class action labor lawsuit on behalf of the workers, which included claims under the TVPA. The first trial resulted in a $14 million verdict for five workers—the first labor trafficking verdict and the largest labor trafficking verdict of any kind.
Migrant Farm Labor Lawsuits
Many labor trafficking victims are immigrants who are employed by agriculture operation and farms. Though many non-American citizens are taken advantage of and think they have little legal recourse. However, a Human Trafficking Attorney can help file lawsuits against offending parties.
Damages under the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act (TVPA) state that plaintiffs may be entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages. “Section 1595 creates a civil cause of action that permits victims of trafficking to recover compensatory and punitive damages from individuals who violate the TVPA.”
Emotional distress damages are also a form of compensatory damages and are recoverable in a private cause of action. Plaintiff can seek multiple emotional distress awards for different violations of the TVPA.
The TVPA also mandates that the greater of the gross income or value to the defendant of the victim’s services or labor or the value of the victim’s labor as guaranteed under the minimum wage and overtime guarantees of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Nursing Program Lawsuits
Nurses at the medical center are recruited from the Philippines, and must pay the hospital up to $20,000 if they leave the job within three years. Fair Labor attorneys are calling the arrangement forced labor and say it violates federal human trafficking law.
The medical center, like many others around the country, started recruiting nurses from the Philippines in 2002, and has hired over 500 workers through the labor recruiter program.
The lawsuit centers on the “placement fees,” which are supposed to pay for relocation costs, employment agency fees, attorney fees, transportation, and immigration filing fees. The nurses are underpaid for their position, some earning about $50,000 a year before taxes.
American hospitals have a history of recruiting nurses from the Philippines. When the U.S. first colonized the country, it began establishing nursing schools. The Americanized nursing curriculum allows for a pool of nurses, and now the Philippines is a leading exporter of nurses to the U.S.
Nurses are urged to choose their recruiters and programs wisely. Employers and brokers have taken advantage of many Filipino nurses, alluring them with jobs that don’t exist, or are falsely advertised. Employers bring in Filipino nurses under a government visa program, claiming they will be paid well, and some don’t see as much money as promised.
Many foreign nurses work at long-term care facilities and nursing homes under stressful and low-wage conditions. They may be charged thousands of dollars in work placement fees.
In an illegal labor and trafficking lawsuit in 2013, the staffing agency Foreign Healthcare Professionals Group (FHPG), was found guilty of 89 counts of human trafficking, money laundering, mail fraud, and visa fraud in Colorado. The defendant, a Nigerian-born recruiter devised a scheme with another fellow recruiter to fabricate a higher education university to lure foreign-educated nurses to work as nurse instructors and supervisors.
The nurses were promised salaries of $68,000 to $72,000. But upon arrival, the nurses were told that the promised positions were unavailable and were coerced to work in long-term care facilities that were clients of FHPG, and paid half of their promised wages. This is only one of many unlawful migrant labor cases filed each year.
LABOR BROKER LAWSUITS
Efforts to reign in unscrupulous labor brokers have largely failed. More regulation and immigration reforms have been stymied by congress. Some argue that new regulations would do little to prevent wrongdoing and would only be costly for U.S. companies seeking foreign labor.
The U.S. State Department and the Department of Labor say they have increased oversight of labor brokers, though taking legal action and filing class action labor lawsuits may still be the only way to hold employers accountable for unfair labor practices.
SEX TRAFFICKING LAWSUITS
In 2017, almost 9,000 cases of sexual exploitation, sex trafficking or forced prostitution in the U.S. were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, according to data collected by the Polaris Project. These numbers are likely a low estimate of the total number of sex trafficking cases as most cases go unreported.
Modern slavery and sex trafficking are highly lucrative for those in the nefarious trade and though most people don’t want to believe such awful syndicates are so widespread, they still thrive today.
Many young women who are targeted in the U.S. and across the globe are immigrants seeking better employment opportunities and stumble into very bad work placement programs and situations that are almost impossible to escape. Victims should urgently seek assistance from legal authorities and contact a Human Trafficking Attorney to learn about the legal options available.
Regardless of where you work, and what your position may be, you have rights as a worker inside the United States. Employers may make you feel like you have no rights, but that is not the case. Contact an attorney if you need assistance and legal advice.
Reports published by the University of Cincinnati indicate that more than 1,030 Ohio juveniles were the victims of human trafficking between 2014 and 2016, many of them for sexual purposes.
Of the human trafficking victims, over 85 percent were involved in sex trafficking. Those at the highest risk of sexual exploitation include runaways, victims of child abuse, and drug users. The statistics, according to the study, are “conservative,” and experts fear many more are victims without a voice or a chance to find a way out.
Many child safety agencies are unable or unwilling to provide data for privacy concerns. Police and safety experts say obtaining reliable data is essential to implementing effective anti-trafficking policies.
Ohio has a number of initiatives that are aimed at addressing sex and labor trafficking, including the training for all state employees in a regulatory or inspection role, as well a 24/7 watch desk.
Sexual exploitation, forced prostitution and sex trafficking can take place in many forms. Some foreigners and immigrants are placed by employers in salons and spas that cater to mostly male clients that engage in sexual acts under the pretense of massage services.
Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, made headlines this year after authorities investigated a massage parlor in Florida. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act defines human trafficking as the following:
- Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion
- The person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age
- The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude or slavery
Internet sex trafficking has grown steadily with the advent of various Web capabilities. Human and sex trafficking offenders and predators have been known to recruit, trap, solicit and sell young victims. The commercial sexual exploitation of children is abhorrent and your Human Trafficking Attorney is dedicated to helping victims and bringing offenders to justice.
Hotel Labor Lawsuits
An unfair labor lawsuit was filed recently against the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City for allegedly attracting workers from the Philippines under a deceptive educational work promotion.
Recruiters for the hotel promised the interns on-the-job training and cultural immersion, but the workers found only menial labor and long hours for a low wage. The hotel used internship program visas to gather cheap labor and avoided travel costs and other fees, according to plaintiffs in the case.
Such immigrant exploitation incidents are not uncommon and deceptive labor recruitment often gets overlooked by authorities. Workers are frequently held in debt bondage and filled with fears about seeking assistance in the U.S. The hospitality industry is particularly guilty of such labor abuse and unfair labor violations.
Even the best hotels and resorts in the country may use unlawful and unethical tactics in hiring cheap immigrant labor. The Grand America Hotel is considered one of the fanciest in Utah, hosting part presidents and other high-profile convention.
Job Placement Exploitation
The J-1 visa program the Filipino workers at the Grand America were issued is intended to give foreign workers training and experience in certain fields. The plaintiffs in the case studied tourism in the Philippines and were thrilled to find an offer to learn about the hospitality industry in the United States. They each paid travel costs and recruitment fees of more than $3,000.
For a typical hotel immigrant work program, the H-2B visa would be more appropriate, but the hotel would have to cover the travel costs. But when the Filipinos arrived, the hotel failed to provide the promised supervised training in different areas of the hotel.
According to the employed immigrant lawsuit, the Filipino staffers were forced to work up to 60 hours, assigned poor tasks and were threatened with deportation when they complained.
Attorneys involved in the case and other employed immigrant lawsuits believe there are dozens more workers in the program getting the same unfair treatment, prompting the class action immigrant exploitation lawsuit. Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Grand America Hotel has been targeted in unfair labor violations.
In 2011, an investigation found the Grand America Hotel was employing 133 workers without proper documentation. The hotel settled that case for $2 million. Millions of workers worldwide are forced to work in situations that they cannot control.
Placement agencies and labor recruiters sell a desirable position abroad but it rarely turns out to be as it seemed. Other instances of immigrant exploitation and unfair labor violations are common.
The Lyon Firm is a Cincinnati, Ohio Employment Attorney and consumer protection law firm representing victims and plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of human trafficking and sex trafficking cases. Filing lawsuits can recover rightful compensation, and can bring trafficking predators and labor trafficking rackets to justice.