LOS ANGELES (CN) - Americans deployed as Arabic linguists in Kuwait claim in court that a contract dispute has left them crammed in substandard living conditions, with no chance to work or leave the Army camps.
Lead plaintiffs Alfred Zaklit, Hany Shaker and Mokhtar Farag sued their employers, Global Linguist Solutions, Aecom Services Inc., and Dyncorp International, on behalf of nearly 100 linguists allegedly trapped in the Middle East.
The linguist services companies are the primary vendors for the U.S. military's $9.7 billion Defense Language Interpretation and Translation Enterprise. Linguists for the companies provide translation and interpretation services to the U.S. Army and other government agencies in the Middle East.
Zaklit and the other class members were allegedly employed as Arabic linguists and stationed in Army camps Buehring and Arifjan in Kuwait. Per Kuwaiti law, Global Linguist obtained a local sponsor to obtain visas for the employees and manage their payroll, according to the complaint. Employers like Global Linguist that want to switch sponsors are allegedly required, however, to receive consent from the incumbent sponsor and the Kuwaiti Ministry of Labor.
The linguists say that after they arrived in Kuwait, Global Linguist decided to sever its ties with its sponsor, Al Shora International General Trading & Contracting, and obtain a new sponsor, KRH, to increase its profit margins.
"In switching sponsors, defendants flouted Kuwaiti immigration laws by, among others, failing to obtain approval from their incumbent sponsor," the complaint states. "Defendants created a legal dispute with Al Shora. More importantly, and regardless of the nature of the dispute with their sponsor, defendants recklessly put their financial interests ahead of the safety and well-being of plaintiffs and class members."
In response to the switch in sponsors, Al Shora allegedly turned over the names of Global Linguist's employees to Kuwaiti immigration authorities, declaring that they were absent from work and, therefore, in violation of their working visas. The linguists' visas were subsequently canceled and the linguists were placed on Kuwaiti's "blacklist" for arrest and deportation, according to the complaint.
The linguists say Al Shora had been holding their passports and never returned the documents to them.
Local Kuwaiti police issued arrest warrants for the linguists, prompting Global Linguist to bar the linguists from leaving the Army posts for any reason, including for work, medical appointments, personal time or emergency matters, according to the complaint.
The linguists have been relegated "to crammed and substandard living conditions for months at a time," they say. "Dozens of linguists are assigned to live in one 300-square-feet tent with limited air conditioning, running water and electricity."
They claim that the U.S. Army suspended the linguists' services in light of the dispute between Global Linguist and Al Shora, and that the U.S. Department of State said the situation was a legal dispute between two companies in which it could not intervene. The Army's Intelligence and Security Command, which oversees the linguists' contract, also refused to intervene, according to the complaint.
"In short, plaintiffs and class members are stuck until defendants resolve the dispute," the complaint states. "This fact notwithstanding, defendants have failed to 'free' plaintiffs and class members for months; and instead, defendants have used them - their own employees - as pawns in their legal and monetary dispute with Al Shora."
The linguists say they face arrest and deportation, and have essentially been made fugitives by Global Linguist's actions. Many of the linguists have developed disabilities because of the living conditions and the stress of the situation, according to the lawsuit.
To make matters worse, Global Linguist has allegedly fired or demoted the linguists because of their disabilities and their "non-working" status, both of which were created by Global Linguist's own actions. Global Linguist real motivation in firing or cutting pay, however, is to save costs and increase its bottom line, the complaint states.
The linguists seek damages on 16 causes of action, including false imprisonment, hostile work environment, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They are represented by Gary Carlin with the Law Offices of Carlin & Buchsbaum in Long Beach.
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