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ACLU Sues Oklahoma Business for Worker Exploitation

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of three Filipino immigrants against a couple and their various Oklahoma business enterprises, claiming the entities breached employment contracts, violated federal wage and immigrations laws, and participated in what amounts to human trafficking.

The suit claims that Walter and Carolyn Schumacher, along with a company that recruited workers, enticed Filipino nationals with promises of good pay and free housing, then exploited those workers for cheap labor, and used ties with law enforcement to intimidate workers.

Stable, Long-Term

The named plaintiffs, Madelyn Casilao, Harry Lincuna, and Allan Garciasay claim they were promised full-time jobs with "stable, long-term work potential" and free housing, food, and transportation under the H-2B temporary foreign worker visa program. According to the lawsuit, the Schumachers, through recruiting and HR company Apex USA Inc. induced the trio and other Filipino workers to pay for their own recruitment, the immigration process, and even travel to Oklahoma.

But upon their arrival at work at a Holiday Inn Express, Montana Mike's Steakhouse, and Water Zoo, only a few hours of work for a few hours a day and for very few dollars. The plaintiffs claim those "working as housekeepers were paid approximately $4.25 per room cleaned," those "working as servers at Montana Mike's Restaurant were paid ... just over $2.00 per hour plus tips," and "breakfast cooks or Water Park employees were paid approximately $1 to $2 per hour less than they had been promised." These wages also fell below the federal minimum wage requirements.

Sparse and Fluctuating

The workers, their lawsuit states, felt they had little recourse:

Due to their sparse and fluctuating work hours, Plaintiffs and other putative class
members were barely able to earn enough to pay their living expenses in Oklahoma, and
were not able to send money home to the Philippines to repay any debts they had incurred
to obtain the H-2B visas.

The businesses also refused to reimburse any of the workers for their travel expenses or recruitment expenses. The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages in the name of unpaid expenses and wages, as well as punitive damages and attorneys' fees and costs.

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