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Another Day, Another Dollar: Private Detention Center Sued By Detainees for Violations of the Washington Minimum Wage Act

Posted on: August 9th, 2018

By: Layli Eskandari Deal

A lawsuit filed by thousands of detained immigrants held at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington alleges systematic wage theft by GEO Group, Inc.  The Plaintiffs seek to recover wages under the Washington Minimum Wage Act, as well as other damages allowable under State law.

GEO Group, Inc. has owned and operated the NWDC, which has 1,500 beds for immigrants, since 2005.  The lawsuit alleges that rather than hire from local workforce, GEO relies upon “captive detainee workers to clean, maintain, and operate NWDC.”  It further states that “GEO’s NWDC Detainee Handbook describes detainee work assignments as including kitchen and laundry work, as well as recreation/library/barber and janitorial services.  The Handbook refers to these various tasks as ‘work’ and a ‘job,’ and references ‘wages earned’ by detainee ‘workers.’”

The Plaintiffs asked the Federal District Court for class certification.  Judge Robert Bryan of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington determined that the detained immigrants have an “employment relationship with GEO.”  The Judge determined that the group of detained immigrants all participate in a volunteer program at NWDC and allege the same “injury,” which is that they are only paid a $1 per day for work, “an amount not commensurate” with the law.  The Judge granted certification for the Plaintiffs to proceed as a class.

In addition to the Federal lawsuit, the State of Washington has also brought a lawsuit against GEO Group, Inc. in the State Superior Court that alleges GEO is violating the State’s minimum wage laws.  The Attorney General for the State of Washington, Bob Ferguson, stated, “A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying its workers $1 per day. That shouldn’t happen in America, and I will not tolerate it happening in Washington. For-profit companies cannot exploit Washington workers.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and others, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes.  The outcome of these cases will have significant effect on the way prison systems treat and compensate detained workers.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Layli Eskandari Deal of the law firm of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

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