Lawsuit: ‘Involuntary servitude’ for Twin Cities workers

A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that the owners of several Star Ocean and Sun Foods grocery stores located throughout the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, regularly hired undocumented workers and mistreated them in ways that Department of Labor officials compared to slavery.

Documents prepared by the DOL accused the owners of “criminal activities of involuntary servitude” including locking workers in freezers and stores after their shifts had ended and not paying them for all the time worked.

One plaintiff from Mexico attributed two miscarriages to inhumane working conditions. In one case, supervisors told her not to go to the hospital after a box of bananas fell on her. When she went anyway, supervisors told her not to reveal that the incident occurred on the job.

In another case, supervisors allegedly told an undocumented worker to leave when DOL investigators arrived. They threatened him with deportation if he cooperated with the DOL.

The suit alleges wage violations, unlawful discrimination and witness tampering and obstruction of justice. The undocumented workers could potentially be allowed to remain in the country under a special program if they are found to be crime victims.

Note: Employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers face a slippery slope of legal problems. The cost savings won’t be worth the ultimate costs if illegal employment is discovered.