It took 7 long years to get justice for some 200 Indian guest workers defrauded by a major U.S. company, but they stuck it out say their American lawyers, and victory was theirs’ when on July 14, Signal International, a Gulf Coast marine services company decided it would rather pay a total of $20 million to them than face 11 more lawsuits pending in southern courts, media reports here say.
In February this year, Signal International had to cough up $14.4 million in a jury ruling to five Indian guest workers, one of the largest settlements of its kind in U.S. history. The ruling was based on the finding that the company and its agents engaged in labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination. The jury also found that one of the plaintiffs was a victim of false imprisonment and retaliation.
In a video posted on the SPLC website, Daniel Warner, SPLC senior supervising attorney in the case described the “dangerous” working conditions for these skilled men in the bowels of the oil rigs and pointed to the huge profits Signal made off their backs after bringing them to this country on false promises. The case was the first of the dozen lawsuits against Signal to go to trial. Now with this an additional settlement of around $6 million to resolve the 11 pending cases, the total of more than $20 million makes it one of the largest labor trafficking cases in U.S. history settled in workers’ favor.
The 11 pending cases were also spearheaded by the Southern Poverty Law Center against Signal along with the leading law firm Crowell & Moring, LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Coschignano & Baker, and the Louisiana Justice Institute.
Signal, based in Mobile, Alabama, will issue an apology to guest workers who also sued in Texas and Louisiana. The agreement has yet to be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court as the company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. “We are happy to have reached an agreement and hope to see it quickly approved by the court,” Jim Knoepp, SPLC deputy legal director is quoted saying in a release. “These workers have waited seven long years for justice.”
The settlement, he said also serves as a warning to companies that might exploit guest workers.