OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma claims a Holiday Inn Express, steakhouse and water park operator exploited a group of Filipino nationals as cheap labor and intimidated them with ties to law enforcement.
Lead plaintiffs Madelyn Casilao, Harry Lincuna and Allan Garcia filed a class-action lawsuit in Oklahoma City federal court on Wednesday against Walter and Carolyn Schumacher, of Clinton, Okla., and their companies: Hotelmacher LLC dba Holiday Inn Express, Steakmacher LLC dba Montana Mike’s Steakhouse and Schumacher Investments LLC dba Water Zoo.
They also sued Apex USA Inc., which allegedly recruited the foreign workers and functioned as a human resources office for the other defendants.
Casilao, Lincuna and Garcia – represented by the ACLU of Oklahoma – claim they were only paid $4.25 per room cleaned, less than their contracted pay or federal wage and hour minimums.
They allege servers at Montana Mike’s Restaurant were paid a little over $2 per hour plus tips and that breakfast cooks and water park employees were paid up to $2 less per hour than what was promised.
The plaintiffs also claim they were not given full-time work as promised, instead working only three to four days per week for a few hours per day.
“Due to their sparse and fluctuating work hours, plaintiffs and other putative class members were barely able to earn enough to pay their living expenses in Oklahoma, and were not able to send money home to the Philippines to repay any debts they had incurred to obtain the H-2B visas,” the 42-page complaint states. “Defendants refused to reimburse plaintiffs and other putative class members for their travel expenses to the United States or for the amounts paid in recruitment expenses.”
Casilao, Lincuna and Garcia say they were promised “stable, long-term work potential,” full-time jobs, free housing, food and transportation under their guest-worker visas.
They were also allegedly induced to pay “substantial fees” for their recruitment, the immigration process and their travel to Oklahoma.
The plaintiffs say they could not have returned to the Philippines or left their jobs without first repaying the debts, which was impossible due to the alleged reduction in working hours, wage rates and unexpected living expenses of up to $300 a month to be put up at a local motel, often in shared rooms with other workers.
They were also not given transportation to their work sites and had to cross a highway on foot, according to the lawsuit.
The workers allege Walter Schumacher made it known that he “was a current and/or former police sheriff, suggesting his close ties with law enforcement,” the complaint states, and would intimidate them by talking to them from a police patrol car.
They claim he told Garcia and other workers that he had a gun in his car as he was picking them up from the airport.
“When plaintiff Garcia and other putative class members inquired about the promised airfare to and from the Philippines, defendant W. Schumacher informed them he would only pay for a return airfare to the Philippines if the employee was returned ‘in a box,’” the complaint states.
Up to 100 Filipino nationals who received H-2B visas through the defendants from 2008 to 2014 are included in the proposed class.
An employee at one of the Schumacher businesses told Fox affiliate KOKH last week that immigrant workers were paid a fair wage, but that they have not been recruited for years.
Holiday Inn Express parent InterContinental Hotels Group PLC is not a party to the lawsuit, but it said in a statement that its business strategy is “underpinned by a commitment to operating responsibly.”
“While we are aware of the allegations against the independently-owned and operated Holiday Inn Express & Suites Clinton, IHG has a long-standing commitment to human rights, including establishment of a formalized Human Rights Policy in 2009 and signing of the UN Global Compact in 2010, through which we aligned with universal principles that include commitments to human rights and labor standards,” the company said Monday afternoon.
Casilao, Lincuna and Garcia seek class certification and compensatory and punitive damages for alleged breach of contract and violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
Their lead attorney in the case is Brady Henderson with the ACLU of Oklahoma, based in Oklahoma City.
They are also represented by attorneys from Legal Aid at Work in San Francisco, Pro Bono Law in Boston and Washington, D.C., and the Equal Justice Center in Austin, Texas.