BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – Thirty-eight immigrant workers say they were “systematically defrauded and exploited in the recruitment and hiring process,” and subjected to “exorbitant debt, forced labor, substandard living conditions and substandard wage rates.” The federal class action names a dozen corporate defendants, including Aramark, The Polo Club of Boca Raton Property Owners Association, a golf club, and the Foundation for Worldwide International Student Exchange.
The immigrants, mostly from the Philippines, but also from Indonesia, Belarus, Turkey and Jamaica, say they were “holders of H-2B visas, which allow U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs.”
There are Recruiter Defendants and Employer Defendants.
The recruiter defendants are Michael V. Lombardi, of West Palm Beach, who is registered agent for co-defendant U.S. Opportunities; Royal Hospitality Services, of New Orleans; Ronald W. Ball, of St. Pete Beach, Fla.; Aramark Corp.; The Polo Club of Boca Raton Property Owners Association, of Plantation, Fla.; Carlos Barracos, of Miami; the Foundation for Worldwide International Student Exchange, of Dyersburg, Tenn.; Patriot Pro Cleaning, of Orlando; Gasparilla Inn, of Boca Grande, Fla.; and Ibis Golf and Country Club, of West Palm Beach.
The employer defendants are 5 Star Forestry, of Ridgeland, Miss.; Southern Mississippi Pine Straw, of Mendenhall, Miss.; Beau Rivage LLC, of Gulfport, Miss.; and Beau Rivage Resorts, of Biloxi.
The class claims the recruiter defendants “fraudulently misrepresented to the Department of Labor that they needed more H-2B workers than actually needed.”
“Recruiter defendants then made employment offers to plaintiffs and other class members for work in the United States at various locations of recruiter defendants.
“However, recruiter defendants actually sent the plaintiffs and other class members to perform work for the employer defendants that had not been identified on their visas.
“Neither the recruiter defendants or employer defendants paid for plaintiffs and other class members’ visa fees as required by the federal visa program.
“Instead recruiter defendants fraudulently misrepresented to plaintiffs and other class members that they were responsible for such fees.
“Plaintiffs and other class members were coerced into signing loan agreements to pay for visa fees that ranged from $5,000 to $8,000.00 per person.”
The class claims the recruiters then sent them to “lender companies that required them to sign twelve (12) postdated checks representing their twelve (12) monthly authorization payments and also required them to issue twelve (12) blank checks to be used to pay off the loan. Plaintiffs and class members were also required to have family members sign as co-signers on the loans so that the loan companies in the foreign countries would have someone to hold responsible in their country in case the loan was not paid.”
Upon arriving in the United States, the workers say, they were then given different jobs than promised, and “were placed in filthy, unsecured, and totally bare trailer trucks that had no potable water, food, proper beds, or even mattresses.”
They seek compensatory and punitive damages for violations of labor laws and of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.
Specific violations alleged include “a. Illegally forcing U.S. Opportunities Class to pay for fees in the visa process that are the sole obligation of the employer petitioner;
“b. Fraudulently misleading U.S. Opportunities Class members to believe they are contracting for employment with one employer in the United States, and then sending them to another employer that was not listed on their visas; and
“c. Transferring U.S. Opportunities Class members to employers that paid them substandard wages and placed them in substandard living conditions.”
The workers are represented by John Davidson with Davidson Bowie, of Jackson, Miss.