The company could end up losing even more money after Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit goes to trial.
A federal jury has ordered The GEO Group to pay $17.3 million to immigrant detainees who were paid $1 per day to perform menial labor in the company’s for-profit Washington detention center.
According to The Associated Press, the jury made its determination on Friday, two days after it decided that the Florida-based company must pay its immigrant detainees at least minimum wage.
“This multibillion-dollar corporation illegally exploited the people it detains to line its own pockets,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Today’s victory sends a clear message: Washington will not tolerate corporations that get rich violating the rights of the people.”
Despite the penalty, The GEO Group may have to pay even more money in damages. The Associated Press notes that Washington state has two pending lawsuits against the company, filed on behalf of detainees held since at least 2005.
Both of these lawsuits, says The Associated Press, were consolidated for the first phase of the trial, which was intended to decide whether The GEO Group was obliged to pay its in-custody workers minimum wage.
Adam Berger, an attorney representing the detainees, said his firm had initially asked for $13.7 million in damages.
However, the jury decided that the immigrants were owed more money.
The settlement, adds The A.P., shall be divided between the 10,000 people who were held in The GEO Group’s Tacoma facility since 2014.
Berger emphasized that his clients are not criminals, and should not be forced to perform poorly-compensated labor to bolster a private company’s profits.
“Immigrants held in GEO’s for-profit facilities are not criminals and should not be beholden to enriching the corporation’s bottom line,” he said, adding that, if GEO appeals the award, no funds will be distributed until the case makes it way through court.
Nevertheless, GEO has maintained that its policies are legal and compliant with state law.
While GEO claims that its detainees are not subject to the Washington Minimum Wage Act, the company asserts that, even if it were, it would be discriminatory for the state to demand that GEO pay its workers minimum wage when the Washington Department of Corrections does not offer the same benefits to its own inmates.
However, Washington suggests that GEO cannot be exempted from pay statutes because it is a privately-owned company, not a public institute.
The Associated Press observes that GEO’s Tacoma facility houses people who are in custody awaiting federal review on their immigration status, or deportation decisions.