March 8, 2012 15:44 Age: 2 yrs

Use of RICO “Creative” in Seeking Employee Damages for Illegal Hires, Price Says

Workers in a Georgia chicken processing plant have filed suit, claiming their employer’s practice of hiring illegal immigrants kept legal workers’ wages low.

Using federal racketeering law to try to recover worker wages is “pretty creative,” said Emory Law Professor Polly J. Price.

Former employees at Sanderson Farms Inc.’s Moultrie, Ga., plant claim the poultry giant hired undocumented immigrants to save millions in labor costs, according to a story in the March 2 edition of the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Since 2008, the lawsuit says, the plant hired at least 300 illegal immigrants, thus "suppressing wage rates for legal workers.” Illegal hiring practices included accepting "obviously fake" employment documents from immigrants, the lawsuit continues.

"This is a very detailed conspiracy to hire illegal workers, which involves a lot of people," said Howard Foster, of Chicago-based Foster PC, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

Foster has filed about 10 similar lawsuits charging corporations with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Operations violations involving illegal hiring practices since 2000, the Chronicle reported.

Filing for individuals under RICO (which allows for treble damages), is “pretty creative,” Price said.

Current immigration law is aimed at enforcement, the story says; employers found guilty of illegal hiring pay fines to the government, not to individuals.

“None of our present laws allow what we call a private right of action,” Price said. “It doesn’t have remedies for U.S. citizens.”

While designed to combat organized crime, the RICO act has been amended to include violations of federal immigration law.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 16 in Macon’s federal court, seeks class-action status. Among other things, it seeks triple back pay for legal workers from 2008 to 2012. Foster told the Chronicle several thousand employees could qualify if a settlement is awarded.

Related links:

Read the Atlanta Business Chronicle story

Professor Price’s profile



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