If you pay attention to the news at all, you have no doubt read about immigrant workers being taken advantage of by employers of all types. These workers are often at a serious disadvantage for two primary reasons: the language barrier and their fear of deportation. Unscrupulous employers use these two factors to exploit immigrant workers by overworking them and paying them very little money. A case out of Illinois demonstrates yet another level of discrimination and mistreatment of immigrant workers.
Two restaurants and an employment agency now under consent decree
A sushi restaurant, a hibachi restaurant, and an employment agency were all placed under a consent decree by an Illinois federal court for their systematic discrimination of immigrant employees. According to court records, these businesses were accused of not only paying them substantially less than minimum wage but also mistreating them in appalling ways.
Illegal wage discrimination against immigrant workers
First, the minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 per hour ($7.25 in Alabama). However, these employees were being paid less than half of that amount. They were also being charged a $220 referral fee for the jobs offered to them by the employment agency. On top of the subpar wages, some of them were required to work nearly 84 hours a week without breaks and without paid overtime.
Forced to endure squalid living conditions
The mistreatment of these employees extended beyond wage and hour issues, however. Although the immigrant workers were provided employee lodging (which is a necessary part of employment for many of them), they were charged excessive rent to live in apartments that were overcrowded and squalid. One of the restaurants implicated in this case housed 15 employees in one apartment with three bedrooms and one bathroom. No furniture was provided. The employees reportedly found dirty mattresses in dumpsters. The housing was roach-infested and some did not have working bathrooms.
Consent decree entered in addition to back pay and penalties
As a result of the clear discrimination, both in mistreatment and wage and hour violations, these three employers agreed to pay close to $215,000 in back wages and penalties to settle the case. Also as part of the settlement, these defendants will enter into a consent decree which will require them to make substantial improvements in their employment practices. Those changes include:
- Maintaining records of workers’ wages and hours
- Training supervisors and employees on anti-discrimination laws
- Creating and implementing a written anti-discrimination policy
- Providing employee lodging that is free of pests and provides working utilities, if they continue to provide such lodging.
A judge will oversee this consent decree which is expected to remain in effect for at least four years.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!