Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

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Class Action Alleges Abuse At Salt Lake City’s Largest Hotel

CLASS ACTION ALLEGES ABUSE AT SALT LAKE CITY’S LARGEST HOTEL
Workers Allege That The Grand America Hotel Unlawfully Exploits A Foreign Exchange Program to Obtain Low-Wage Foreign Labor
 
SALT LAKE CITY, UT — Today, four workers filed a putative class action lawsuit against Grand America Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (“Grand America”) and its parent company Sinclair Service Co. (“Sinclair”), which operate Grand America Hotel, the largest hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. The workers, who are originally from the Philippines, allege that Defendants used a sham J-1 visa internship program to inappropriately use current and recent students from abroad, eager to learn about the American hospitality industry, as a pool of low-wage workers. The workers allege that Defendants forced them to spend long hours working menial jobs for low wages with no formal training in violation of minimum-wage, discrimination, anti-racketeering and anti-human trafficking protections.
 
The workers—Jann Descanzo, Veronica Bondoc, Glen Segundino, and Marianne Ponio—are represented by the Alex McBean Law Office, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles, Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC, and Towards Justice.
 
The workers allege that Defendants recruited them to work at the hotel as part of a J-1 visa internship program and that they paid significant fees to participate in the internship program. Intended to facilitate educational and cultural exchange between the people of the United States and other countries, J-1 internships are designed to provide interns with hands-on experience and training. Employers may not use J-1 internships as a substitute for ordinary employment.
 
The workers allege that the use of the sham internship program illegally saved Defendants thousands of dollars per worker, as the correct visa category for low wage foreign workers—H-2B visas—would have barred charging many of the fees and costs Defendants charged to the workers, including recruiting fees and travel costs.
 
“Our clients allege Defendants have been manipulating the J-1 internship program to bring in vulnerable, low-wage workers from overseas,” said David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice, a Denver-based non-profit law firm. “If true, this conduct is a blatant, greed-driven, and illegal perversion of this country’s immigration laws.”  
 
In written internship plans given to the workers and submitted to the United States Department of State, the workers allege Defendants promised supervised training in several departments at the hotel as well as an array of cultural immersion experiences. The workers allege that little, if any, of the internship plans turned out to be true. Defendants allegedly required Filipino J-1 workers to work longer hours and perform less desirable tasks than other employees, and Defendants’ supervisors allegedly directed racist comments toward Filipino workers, calling Filipinos “slow” and “lazy.” The workers further allege that, when they complained that Defendants were not following the internship plans, Defendants threatened the workers with deportation if they did not do the work they were ordered to perform.
 
“We believe that the workers here were victims of, among other things, human trafficking,” said Christopher M. Lapinig, Staff Attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles. “The workers allege that they were defrauded into coming to work at the hotel and that they were subject to threats of deportation if they didn’t comply with work orders. These are hallmarks of human trafficking.”
 
Defendants allegedly have a history of utilizing low-wage migrant workers to operate the hotel. In 2011, the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) found that Grand America was unlawfully employing 133 undocumented workers. Even after this DHS investigation, however, Grand America created sham employment agencies through which the hotel continued to employ undocumented workers. When DHS uncovered this unlawful conduct, Grand America agreed to pay a penalty of $1.95 million. Details regarding this history of illegal activity are available from the United States Department of Justice here.
 
Stymied in their attempts to use undocumented labor, the workers allege that Defendants turned to abuse of the J-1 visa program to meet their demand for low-wage foreign labor to operate their hotel.
 
“Grand America’s history of misconduct is troubling,” said Alex McBean of the Alex McBean Law Office. “Our clients’ allegations suggest that law enforcement efforts have not discouraged Defendants from continuing to exploit the immigration system.”
 
The workers bring this action on behalf of all individuals who worked for Defendants as J-1 interns. The putative class alleges a number of claims against Defendants, including claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
 
“We hope to bring justice to all of the workers that Defendants may have harmed,” said Erika Nusser, Member at Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC. “And we hope that this action encourages others in similar situations to come forward and seek help.”
 
A copy of the complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Utah may be found here.
Contact: 
Alison Vu, (213) 241-0283, [email protected]
About Advancing Justice - LA: 
Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) is the nation's largest legal and civil rights organization for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (NHPI). Through direct services, impact litigation, policy advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building, Advancing Justice-LA focuses on the most vulnerable members of Asian American and NHPI communities while also building a strong voice for civil rights and social justice.
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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