Jury says GEO Group must pay minimum wage to immigrant detainees

2 minute read

Immigrants sit in a cell for incoming ICE detainees at the Adelanto immigration detention center, which is run by the Geo Group Inc, in Adelanto, California, U.S., April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Oct 28 (Reuters) - A federal jury in Washington has found that private prison operator GEO Group Inc (GEO.N) violated state minimum wage requirements by paying $1 a day to immigrant detainees who participated in work programs.

After a trial that lasted nearly three weeks, the jury in Tacoma, Washington, handed down a verdict for the plaintiffs in consolidated 2017 lawsuits against GEO by a class of detainees and the office of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Florida-based GEO did not respond to a request for comment.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

The company had maintained that detainees at a 1,575-bed facility in Tacoma were not its employees under state law, and that federal regulations permitted the company to pay them far below the minimum wage to clean, do laundry, wash dishes and staff a barber shop and library.

A trial on damages in the lawsuit by detainees began on Thursday. The class is seeking millions of dollars in back pay dating back to 2014.

And in the next phase of the attorney general's case, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan will determine how much GEO must pay to the state for underpaying detainees. Washington's minimum wage is currently $13.69 an hour.

Ferguson in a statement said his office will ask Bryan to place that money into a fund dedicated to supporting people detained by GEO and workers in the community surrounding the detention center who may have lost out on job opportunities.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com
Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in New York; Editing by Mark Porter

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.