A federal jury recently found that the GEO Group, a for-profit, multi-billion-dollar company that operates detention facilities for immigrants throughout the U.S., owes current and former immigrant detainees $17.3 million in back pay for work that detainees had been paid just $1 a day to complete.
The Attorney General in Washington brought the lawsuit in 2017, arguing that GEO’s labor practices violated Washington’s minimum wage law and that the company unjustly enriched itself by failing to pay minimum wage. The lawsuit alleged that the GEO Group would pay detainees just $1 a day to operate many aspects of the detention facility, such as preparing, cooking, and serving food to detainees, operating the laundry service, and cleaning the facility. In some cases, detainees were paid with potato chips or candy in lieu of wages.
For its part, the GEO Group maintained that detainees are not considered “employees” under Washington law, and therefore are not covered by the state minimum wage laws, which exempt those living in state, county, or municipal detention facilities.
News outlets reported that the GEO Group made $18.6 million in profits from one of its detention facilities in Tacoma, Washington. And, in response to the court ruling finding that GEO owed $17.3 million in back pay to detainees and another $5.9 million to the State of Washington for unjustly enriching itself, the AP reported that GEO asked the judge to put the decisions on hold pending appeal. GEO explained that while the private company had the money “to pay the Judgments twenty times over,” it disagreed with the decisions.
In Colorado, a similar lawsuit challenging GEO Group’s practice of paying detainees just $1 a day for labor is currently pending with the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado
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