ACLU suing local pair second time
Another federal lawsuit has been filed against Walt and Carolyn Schumacher of Clinton and companies they own, this time on behalf of three Jamaicans who allege they were recruited to work here and then were not paid or treated as promised.
The suit was filed June 15 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma which is based in Oklahoma City. Eight attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma City, from Legal Aid at Work based in San Francisco, Calif., and from the Equal Justice Center in Austin, Texas, are representing the three plaintiffs. Several of the attorneys are located in Boston, Mass.
Plaintiffs are Dorret Francis, who arrived in the United States in June of 2008; Anthony Kennedy, who arrived in June of 2012; and Christine Pearce, who came here in May of 2011.
A previous federal lawsuit filed one year ago by the same organizations on behalf of three Filipino young people remains pending.
Named as defendants in the current complaint, in addition to the Schumachers, are Hotelmacher, LLC; Sontag Inc.; Steakmacher, LLC; and Schumacher Investments, LLC.
As with the first suit, this one alleges that the young people were recruited by a “not-for-profit” Schumacher company, Apex USA, to come here with promises of “fulltime work, affordable housing, food, transportation, and the possibility of obtaining additional jobs from other employers in the area.” However, says the suit, “These promises were never fulfilled: instead, Plaintiffs were forced to work under conditions that bore little resemblance to those to which they had agreed.”
It claims their hourly wages were significantly less than promised and the work was not fulltime. As for housing, it says they were charged significant fees – up to $100 a week – “for overcrowded, decrepit company-owned housing” and/or referred to “overcrowded and costly motel-room accommodations.”
The 34-page suit also says defendants created a situation where plaintiffs and other unnamed associates were working few hours for little pay, so that they could not afford to return to their home countries and repay loans they had taken out to cover recruitment fees and travel expenses they had been induced to pay to come here.
“This left Plaintiffs and the putative class members with no choice but to labor for Defendants on Defendants’ terms,” the complaint states.
The time period covered was listed as between May 29, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2013.
Among complaints specifically alleged is human trafficking, which the suit says is especially prevalent in the hospitality industry. However, it does not mention any sexual improprieties.
Each of the three Jamaican plaintiffs named in the suit allegedly borrowed from $2,000 to $3,000 from family members, friends and in one instance a bank, to pay their expenses of coming here, says the suit. But they allegedly earned so little while they were here that one of them, Ms. Pearce, “struggled to afford airfare back to Jamaica at the end of her stay and was unable to repay her debt until three years later.” Another, Kennedy, borrowed more than $2,200 from family and friends to come here and “has been unable to fully repay these loans to this day.” The third, Ms. Francis, allegedly had to solicit additional funds when she got home to repay $2,000 in loans she had taken out to get here and needed to borrow additional money to pay her next semester’s school fees.
“Because they had paid massive recruitment fees, often taking on significant amounts of debt abroad, and were struggling to make ends meet in an isolated area of Oklahoma, Plaintiffs and putative class members had no choice but to continue working for Defendants,” the complaint says.
The class-action suit implies that other individuals could be added as complainants in the future. It says the class is believed to include at least 50 individuals and possibly as many as 100.
Among relief sought are actual damages, including restitution; compensatory damages; punitive damages; and payment of “reasonable” attorney fees and costs for plaintiffs.
In a summons filed July 18, defendants were given 21 days to answer the complaint.
Attorneys for the Schumachers in the 2017 suit brought on behalf of the three Filipinos filed motions to dismiss in July that year. In their motions to dismiss, Schumacher lawyers called those complaints “a false tale of human trafficking and breach of promise.”
This suit also repeats a complaint made in the first one that Walt Schumacher threatened plaintiffs by telling them he carried a firearm in his car.
His attorneys, in a response to that last year, wrote the following: “The complaint contains no details about the context of this statement, nor is there any allegation that Mr. Schumacher ever drew his firearm, brandished it at any plaintiff, or even mentioned the possibility of using it. This allegation is nothing more than vague innuendo and cannot possible be construed as a threat of physical force or restraint by Mr. Schumacher.”