ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - DynCorp got its military translators thrown into Kuwaiti prisons after coercing them into signing false confessions, and owes them money too, 19 American-Arab translators claim in a federal class action.
Lead plaintiff Ramzi Zinnekah, of Dallas, sued DynCorp and its joint ventures Global Linguists Solutions (GLS) and AECOM in Federal Court, accusing them of Fair Labor Standards Act violations, conspiracy and tortious interference.
The class claims that DynCorp, a military contracting giant, duped them into signing confessions that they violated Kuwaiti immigration laws, landing some in jail and stiffing all of them for paychecks.
DynCorp, through GLS, hired the American linguists to translate for the U.S. military, then forced them to undergo training for which none were paid, according to the lawsuit.
"Neither plaintiffs or absent class members have any control over the nature or the manner in which the work is to be performed during these training periods," the complaint states. "In fact, during the mandatory training periods, plaintiffs and absent contractors are confined within a DynCorp training facility and are not free even to come and go at their own will. Moreover, as GLS translators, many plaintiffs have been confined to GLS facilities and are not permitted to leave GLS facilities."
Things got worse when they got to Kuwait, which requires a domestic corporate sponsor for all foreign workers.
According to the complaint, GLS entered into a deal with Kuwaiti company Al Shora International General Trading & Contracting Company to sponsor the linguists - but backed out of the deal without telling the Americans that they were there in violation of Kuwaiti immigration law.
"Al Shora provided multiple warnings to defendants about the consequence of ending the sponsorship relationship between GLS and Al-Shora with respect to the immigration status of plaintiffs," the complaint states.
"Defendants, for the most part, ignored the warnings made by Al Shora regarding the effect of ending the sponsorship relationship with respect to the immigration status of plaintiffs."
Al Shora informed the Kuwait government, which "began arresting certain plaintiffs," the class claims.
GLS failed to tell its linguists they were vulnerable to arrest, and several plaintiffs were thrown into Kuwaiti prisons for violating labor and immigration laws, the class says. After the initial arrests, more plaintiffs were "trapped" on U.S. bases for fear of arrest.
"GLS has acknowledged that representations that plaintiffs have engaged in wrong-doing or criminal conduct while in Kuwait are false," the class claims.
"On or about September 7, 2013, GLS management presented documents to certain plaintiffs. They informed these plaintiffs that they were required to sign the documents immediately. The documents stated that the plaintiffs had committed crimes, specifically immigration crimes, in Kuwait. Such statements were untrue as these plaintiffs had not committed any crimes. GLS insisted that these plaintiffs execute confessions to illegal conduct as a condition to being released from Kuwait and returning home. Some plaintiffs, under duress, signed these statements. Other plaintiffs, insisting that they not be forced to sign documents that admitted to facts that were inaccurate and crimes that they had not committed, refused to sign the documents.
"Notwithstanding having signed documents that admitted to criminal activity - criminal activity they did not commit - the plaintiffs who signed such documents were not released from detention and were not allowed to return home.
"The plaintiffs who refused to sign the confessions were told that GLS could no longer advocate for them and that 'they were on their own.' Thus, the plaintiffs who refused to sign false confessions are now in limbo in Kuwait as GLS has abandoned them."
The 19 named plaintiffs say they are all U.S. citizens, some with "exemplary service in the U.S. military."
They accuse DynCorp, GLS and AECOM of employing a business model that denied them compensation under both American and Kuwaiti labor laws, of coercing some into signing false confessions that sent them to jail, and keeping others in "virtual house arrest - confined to U.S. military bases (Camp Buehring and Camp Arifjan) for over three months without the ability to leave Kuwait, cut off from their families, cut off from adequate medical care, and unable to work."
They seek compensatory and punitive damages.
They are represented by John Beins with Beins Goldberg & Hennessey, of Chevy Chase, Md.
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