Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Jamaican workers file human trafficking lawsuit against US employer

Published:Thursday | August 23, 2018 | 9:50 AM
AP photo

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) —Three Jamaican immigrants have filed a lawsuit against a western Oklahoma couple alleging human trafficking.

The lawsuit was filed in June.

It is being alleged that husband and wife Walter Schumacher and Carolyn Schumacher of Clinton, about 80 miles west of Oklahoma City, lured the workers with promises of good wages and free or low-cost housing, but instead used them as cheap labour and charged them high costs for housing.

The Jamaicans went to the US under student work visas between 2008 and 2012.

An attorney for the Schumachers did not return a phone call seeking comment, but previously denied the allegations and described the couple as “heartsick.”

The lawsuit follows a similar action filed in 2017 by three Filipino immigrants who came into the country on temporary work visas in 2012.

While there have been previous civil lawsuits over the treatment of immigrants in the United States on work visas, immigration attorney Kent Felty of Denver said they are and will continue to be rare, partly because of the language barrier immigrants face, their unfamiliarity with U.S. law, and the amount of time it would take an attorney to win what might be a small judgement.

“You can say it’s not about the money, but it’s about them money ... you can’t do it as a private attorney, it’s all about if you’re going to get paid, ” said Felty, who is not involved in the lawsuits.

“Half the country would give them a million dollars on a thousand dollar case, and half the country would like to see them deported,” said Felty, who successfully sued the John Pickle Company in Tulsa and Falcon Steel Structures, Inc., in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over claims similar to the allegations against the Schumachers.

Felty said none of the $1.3 million judgement in the Pickle case was paid while the Falcon case was settled for an undisclosed sum.

The plaintiffs in the current cases are represented by the nonprofit Equal Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom law firm, which provides pro bono services.

Equal Justice Center attorney Chris Willett said the Filipino workers contacted the center, perhaps due to workers’ rights documents that are included with their visa packages, and the Jamaican immigrants contacted the center after learning of the first lawsuit.

“They had contacted us to try to understand what was going on there in Oklahoma, that they were not getting what they were promised ... when recruited in the Philippines,” Willett said.

Amir Farzaneh, an Oklahoma City immigration attorney also said the private lawsuits are unusual and the laws regarding immigrant worker visas are strict.

“If you hire a worker from overseas, you have to tell them how much you will pay them,” Farzaneh said. “The Department of Labor is adamant.”

Labor Department spokesman Juan Rodriguez said the department is investigating two of the Schumacher’s companies where some of the immigrants worked, Hotelmacher, LLC, which operates a Holiday Inn Express, and Steakmacher, LLC, which does business as Montana Mike’s Steakhouse but declined further comment.

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