SPLC complaint in David v. Signal International, LLC
The SPLC 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 multinational 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.”
Plaintiffs: Kurian David, Sony Vasudevan Sulekha, Palanyandi Thangamani, Maruganantham Kandhasamy, Hemant Khuttan, Andrews Issac Padaveettiyl, Dhananjaya Kechuru, Sabulal Vijayan, Krishnan Kumar, Jacob Joseph Kadakkarappally, Kuldeep Singh, and Thanasekar Chellappan
Defendants: Signal International LLC, Malvern C. Burnett, Gulf Coast Immigration Law Center, L.L.C., Law Offices of Malvern C. Burnett, A.P.C., Indo-Ameri Soft L.L.C., Kurella Rao, J & M Associates, Inc. of Mississippi, Global Resources, Inc., Michael Pol, Sachin Dewan, and Dewan Consultants Pvt. Ltd. (a/k/a Medtech Consultants)
EEOC complaint in EEOC v. Signal International
Three years after the SPLC filed its lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against Signal, accusing the company of discriminating against the Indian guest workers in the David case filed by the SPLC and its co-counsel. The EEOC’s lawsuit also alleges that Signal retaliated against the workers – firing them, detaining them and attempting to deport them – when they tried to oppose the company’s discriminatory practices.
The EEOC lawsuit is part of an effort targeting extreme labor abuse. The court allowed the guest workers represented by the SPLC to join the EEOC’s case as plaintiff-intervenors, providing these workers with a voice in the EEOC case and another opportunity for justice. The EEOC lawsuit is also significant because the government sought to hold Signal, rather than labor recruiters or other “middlemen,” responsible for the abuses.
The lawsuit charges that Signal discriminated against the Indian workers by requiring them to pay astronomical rent to live in substandard, crowded housing that non-Indian workers did not have to occupy, and created and perpetuated a hostile work environment against the Indian employees based on their race or national origin.
Plaintiff: The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Plantiff Intervenors: Kurian David, Sony Vasudevan Sulekha, Palanyandi Thangamani, Maruganantham Kandhasamy, Hemant Khuttan, Andrews Issac Padaveettiyl, Dhananjaya Kechuru, Sabulal Vijayan, Krishnan Kumar, Jacob Joseph Kadakkarappally, Kuldeep Singh, and Thanasekar Chellappan
Defendant: Signal International, LLC