DENVER (CN) – The 10th Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling Tuesday demanding a company compensate children of the Fundamental Church of Latter-day Saints who were forced to harvest pecans.
The Department of Labor first stepped in to ban Paragon Contractors Corporation from exploiting child laborers in 2007. DOL cited Paragon for contempt when the company with connections to the imprisoned cult leader Warren Jeffs was later found to have employed and cheated 1,400 children and adults out of two year’s wages for pecan harvest work.
From Jan. 1 2012 to Dec. 31, 2013, the children harvested pecans at the Southern Utah Pecan Ranch, outside of Hurricane. They were denied both minimum wage and overtime compensation. Workers pruned trees, mowed fields, did general maintenance, picked and bagged pecans and did other farm and packing work. An estimated 125 child workers were younger than 12; 50 children aged 12 to 13; and 25 children were between 14 and 15.
In May 2015, the Labor Department also fined Bishop Lyle Jeffs, Warren Jeffs’ brother, who headed day-to-day operations, and Paragon $1.9 million.
After the district court ordered Paragon and President Brian Jessop to compensate the children $200,000 for their work, the company appealed to the 10th Circuit saying that the children were volunteers who picked the pecans for pleasure—not employees who expected to be paid.
The court rejected this argument. In addition to local schools closing during harvest time, children and parents alike testified that they were threatened with excommunication if they did not work during the harvest. Additionally, Paragon was paid 70 percent of the harvest’s profits.
While the 10th Circuit upheld the district court’s decision to cite Paragon for contempt and compensate the children $200,000 for their work, the court rejected the need to appoint a receiver to monitor the company’s compliance.
The appeal was delivered before circuit judges Carl Lucero, Robert Bacharach, and Nancy Mortiz, with Bacharach writing the opinion.
DOL did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Paragon’s legal representative, Rick Sutherland with the Salt Lake City office of Jackson Lewis, also did not respond to requests for comment.