David, et al. v. Signal International LLC
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action suit on behalf of hundreds of guest workers from India who were lured by false promises of permanent U.S. residency and who each paid tens of thousands of dollars to obtain temporary jobs at Gulf Coast shipyards only to find themselves forced into involuntary servitude and living in overcrowded, guarded labor camps.
The lawsuit charges that Signal International LLC and a network of recruiters and labor brokers engineered a scheme to defraud the workers and force them to work against their will in Signal facilities in Pascagoula, Miss., and Orange, Texas.
Several of the workers were illegally detained by company security guards during a pre-dawn raid of their quarters after they began organizing other workers to complain about the abuses.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the complaint claims defendants engaged in forced labor, human trafficking, fraud, racketeering and civil rights violations. Signal is a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in Mississippi and Texas. It is a subcontractor for several major multi-national companies.
The case has resulted in precedent-setting decisions that will benefit immigrant workers, including one that prohibited the defendants from inquiring about the immigration status of the Signal workers. The court said such inquiries would have “an intimidating effect on an employee's willingness to assert his workplace rights.”
The court also has denied every motion to dismiss the case, noting that without this litigation “there is no reason to believe that the systemic victimization alleged in this case would not have continued indefinitely.”