Washington State Lawsuit Against Private Prison Allowed to Move Forward

SEATTLE (CN) –Washington state can continue to pursue claims against a for-profit prison and detention facility operator for failing to pay federal immigration detainees minimum wage, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, reversing his previous decision to dismiss the case.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan said in a proposed ruling two weeks ago that new rulings on intergovernmental immunity clarified federal contractors should be treated the same as the federal government.

Washington does not pay minimum wage to detainees in voluntary work programs and cannot require GEO Group, which is contracted by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to do so without violating the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Bryan originally said.

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Bryan said his previous decision allowing the case to proceed was wrong and he gave both sides a chance to respond before he dismissed the case.

After reviewing Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s arguments, Bryan changed his mind again Wednesday, saying proposed comparisons between the state’s inmates and ICE’s civil detainees are not supported by the record.

“…It follows that the record does not support a finding that application of the Minimum Wage Act impermissibly discriminates against the Defendant, The GEO Group, Inc., and through it, the United States. Material issues of fact remain regarding the proper comparators for determination of whether the State discriminates against the Defendant in the State’s proposed application of the Minimum Wage Act,” according to the ruling.

Bryan said GEO Group’s intergovernmental immunity defense “remains an undecided issue,” so proceedings will continue.

Washington sued GEO Group in 2017 for violating the state’s minimum wage laws. The GEO-run Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma pays detained workers $1 a day, but the state’s minimum wage is $12 an hour.

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