Immigration Detainees Can Pursue Forced Labor Class Action

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Immigration detainees confined in a GEO Group Inc. correctional facility in Colorado say the government contractor has been paying them as little as $1 a day to participate in a voluntary work program. A federal appeals court Feb. 9 said the detainees could proceed with a class action against the company.

The class action over conditions at the Aurora, Colo., facility is one of several lawsuits filed against the correctional services company. The state of Washington has filed a case alleging that detainees in a GEO facility are employees under state law who are entitled to an $11 per hour minimum wage.

In the Aurora case, GEO appealed a lower court’s certification of classes consisting of detainees housed at the facility during the last 10 years. The company argued that the individualized back pay or damage claims of detainees require fact-specific inquiries that would make a class action unwieldy, but the appeals court disagreed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit instead affirmed a lower court’s decision to certify two classes to proceed with claims under Colorado’s unjust enrichment law and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits forced labor.

Judge Scott M. Matheson authored the court’s opinion. Judges Robert E. Bacharach and Carolyn B. McHugh joined in the opinion.

Outten & Golden LLP is the lead firm for for Alejandro Menocal and other detainees. Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP is the lead firm for GEO Group Inc.

The case is Menocal v. GEO Group, Inc. , 10th Cir., No. 17-1125, 2/9/18 .

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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