BIRMINGHAM - US federal authorities have filed a lawsuit against a marine services company based in Alabama for alleged demeaning treatment of 500 Indian employees, who were forced to live in "substandard" accommodations and given "unwholesome" food.
The lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Signal International said that these Indian workers, brought into the country by a separate entity which is not part of the case, were forced to live in substandard, unsanitary accommodations.
For this, they were charged an inordinate amount, given unwholesome food, demeaned by being referred to by numbers instead of their names, and at least two of them were retaliated against for complaining about the substandard conditions and discrimination, the EEOC said.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund, Louisiana Justice Institute and the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP have a class action lawsuit pending against the same company on behalf of the same former guest workers.
The EEOC's lawsuit against Signal charges that the company discriminated against hundreds of Indian guest workers lured into forced labor in Pascagoula, Mississippi and Orange, Texas.
It alleges that Signal violated the rights of the Indian guest workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Signal, a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, is a subcontractor for several major multi-national firms.
After hurricane Katrina scattered its workforce, Signal used the US government's guest worker programme to import employees to work as welders and pipefitters, the ACLU said.
Between 2004 and 2006, hundreds of Indian men paid Signal's recruiters as much as USD 20,000 for travel, visa, recruitment and other fees after they were told it would lead to good jobs, green cards and permanent US residency.
Many of the workers sold their houses and other valuables and took out high-interest loans to come up with the money, the ACLU said.
When the men arrived at Signal in late 2006 and early 2007, they discovered that they would not receive the green cards as promised, but rather 10-month guest worker visas.
"Signal forced them to pay $1,050 a month to live in crowded company housing in isolated, fenced labour camps where as many as 24 men shared a trailer with only two toilets," the ACLU said.
Signal officials have denied any wrong doings.