Signal International lawsuits (re trafficking of Indian workers in USA)

signal_international_trafficking_via_wikimedia_commonsClass action lawsuit – David et al v Signal International LLC et al

In October 2008, a number of named plaintiffs filed a class action on behalf of over 500 Indian workers, against Signal International, a marine repair company, and a network of US labour recruiters and immigration lawyers.

The plaintiffs alleged that Signal and the co-defendants lured workers from India to the United States as part of a government guest-worker programme, between 2004 and 2007.  The workers were allegedly charged up to US$20,000 each to participate in the programme, on the promise of permanent US residency.  The workers claimed that they had not been granted residency upon arrival, and had instead been forced to pay Signal over US$1000 monthly to live in guarded and crowded accommodation.  The specific claims included trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination.

Signal denied the allegations and argues that it was misled by the recruiters.  It has filed lawsuits against them.

In January 2012, a US district court denied class certification for the claim.  In January 2015, the case in respect of five of the named plaintiffs went to trial. In February 2015, a jury found in favour of the plaintiffs and also held that one plaintiff had been subjected to false imprisonment and retaliation.

The company was ordered to pay $12 million damages, and a recruitment broker and lawyer were each ordered to pay $915,000.

In July 2015, Signal settled the David lawsuit and 11 other cases for $20 million.  The company later filed for bankrupcy.

 

Related individual lawsuits

Since May 2013, more than 200 plaintiffs who had been excluded from the 2008 class action have filed at least twelve federal lawsuits against Signal and the co-defendants, asserting similar claims. These cases are on-going.

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit

In April 2011, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a federal lawsuit against Signal, accusing the company of discriminating against the workers, and retaliating against those who protested against their treatment.  Some workers from the 2008 lawsuit joined this action.  In December 2015, Signal International agreed to pay $5 million to settle the lawsuit.

- "Guest Workers to Receive $5 Million from EEOC Lawsuit Against Signal International", 18 Jan 2016
- “US court finds ship repair firm Signal guilty of discriminating against & trafficking Indian workers”, Reuters, 19 Feb 2015
- “Hundreds Claim Signal International Enslaved Them for Hurricane Work”, Iulia Filip, Courthouse News Service, 9 Aug 2013
-
Suit Points to Guest Worker Program Flaws”, Julia Preston, New York Times (USA), 2 Feb 2010

Signal International:
- “Kurian David v Signal International [Statement from Signal International]”, 12 Jan 2015

American Civil Liberties Union:
- “Federal jury awards $14 million to Indian guest workers victimized in labor trafficking scheme by Gulf coast shipyard and its agents”, 18 Feb 2015
- “Top U.S. Law Firms File Multiple Human Trafficking Lawsuits Against Signal International, LLC”, 21 May 2013

Southern Poverty Law Center:
- Signal International Lawsuits

Findlay Craft [Law Firm]
- “Findlay takes on pro bono human trafficking case”, 20 Jan 2014

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
- "Signal International, LLC to Pay $5 Million to Settle EEOC Race, National Origin Lawsuit", 18 Dec 2015
-
EEOC combats labor trafficking, severe abuse and discrimination in lawsuits filed today”, 20 Apr 2011

US District Court of Eastern District of Louisiana:
- David et al v Signal, J&M Associates, Indo Ameri-Soft (No. 08-1220-SM-DEK) – Sixth Amended Complaint, 5 Aug 2014
- EEOC and Sabulal et al v Signal – Proposed First Amended Complaint in Intervention, 7 Nov 2012
- Kurian David et al v Signal International LLC et al – Class Certification Decision, 4 Jan 2012

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Article
18 January 2016

Guest Workers to Receive $5 Million from EEOC Lawsuit Against Signal International

Author: India West

Signal International…will pay about $5 million to settle a federal race discrimination lawsuit that has been pending for four years…Eleven different lawsuits had been brought out against Signal, after Indian guest workers sued Signal for forcing them to work in harsh conditions...Signal agreed to settle all the lawsuits for $20 million before declaring bankruptcy the same day…The guest workers – primarily welders and pipe-fitters recruited from South India…complained of squalid living conditions…They also complained that they had been recruited under false promises of getting a green card…[W]orkers paid more than $20,000 for the opportunity to work in the U.S., some selling off ancestral lands and jewelry to obtain the funds.

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Article
1 March 2015

Signal International Lawsuits

Author: Southern Poverty Law Centre

...After a seven-year legal battle...a federal jury awarded $14 million in compensatory and punitive damages to five Indian guest workers in February 2015. It found that the company, Signal International, New Orleans lawyer Malvern C. Burnett and India-based recruiter Sachin Dewan engaged in labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination. The jury also found that one of the five plaintiffs was a victim of false imprisonment and retaliation...Three years after the SPLC filed its lawsuit, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against Signal, accusing the company of discriminating against the Indian guest workers in the David case filed by the SPLC and its co-counsel. The EEOC’s lawsuit also alleges that Signal retaliated against the workers – firing them, detaining them and attempting to deport them – when they tried to oppose the company’s discriminatory practices...

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Article
19 February 2015

US court finds ship repair firm Signal guilty of discriminating against & trafficking Indian workers

Author: Reuters

“Indian workers awarded millions after US firm found guilty of trafficking,” 19 Feb 2015

A New Orleans jury...awarded $14m to five Indian men who were lured to the [USA] and forced to work under inhumane conditions after Hurricane Katrina by a ship repair firm and its codefendants. After a four-week trial, the…jury ruled that…Signal...was guilty of labour trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination and ordered it to pay $12m. Its co-defendants, a...lawyer and an India-based recruiter, were also found guilty and ordered to pay an additional $915,000 each. The trial was the first in more than a dozen related lawsuits with over 200 plaintiffs that together comprise one of the largest labour trafficking cases in US history…Signal said in a statement that it is weighing an appeal. “Signal strongly disagrees with rulings from the court in the case which impacted its ability to present defences and is disappointed with the verdict,” the company said...

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Article
18 February 2015

Federal jury awards $14 million to Indian guest workers victimized in labor trafficking scheme by Gulf coast shipyard & its agents

Author: American Civil Liberties Union

…After a four-week trial…the jury ruled that Signal…[a] New Orleans lawyer…and [an] India-based recruiter…engaged in labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination. The jury also found that one of the five plaintiffs was a victim of false imprisonment and retaliation…Together, the H-2B visa [guest worker] status, the high debt, the poor conditions at the labor camp and the discriminatory treatment and disparagement based on their race or nationality led the men to feel trapped…When some men tried to find their own housing, Signal officials told them the “man camp” fee would still be deducted from their pay. Visitors were rarely allowed into the camps. Company employees searched workers’ belongings. And workers who complained were threatened with deportation – a disastrous prospect for those who mortgaged their futures to obtain the jobs…

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Article
12 January 2015

[PDF] Kurian David v. Signal International [Statement from Signal International]

Author: Signal International

Signal International is a regional marine fabrication company situated on the gulf coast in Alabama and Mississippi. In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Signal’s operations in Orange, TX and Pascagoula, MS experienced a severe shortage of skilled labor…Signal was approached by labor providers and an immigration attorney who proposed it hire temporary guest workers who were skilled craftsmen under the United States’ H-2B temporary worker program. Those workers came to the US; a number of workers left and made serious accusations in lawsuits they filed against Signal seeking to create a class action. Kurian David v. Signal International, the first such case, begins jury selection on Monday, January 12, 2015…Signal has always maintained the plaintiffs’ claims are meritless, and has vigorously defended itself for over seven years.

Item
5 August 2014

David et al v Signal, J&M Associates, Indo Ameri-Soft – Sixth Amended Complaint

Author: Southern Poverty Law Center

...Plaintiffs bring this action to recover for damages inflicted by Defendants Signal, J&M Associates...Indo Ameri-Soft...and these employers’ recruiters, agents, alter egos, and successors operating in India, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Defendants have collectively exploited and defrauded Plaintiffs by fraudulently recruiting them to work in the United States and effectuating a broad scheme of psychological coercion, threats of serious harm and physical restraint, and threatened abuse of the legal process to maintain control over Plaintiffs...

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Article
20 January 2014

Findlay takes on pro bono human trafficking case

Author: Findlay Craft

…Findlay Craft is acting as local counsel in cooperation with Fredrikson & Byron…and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in a complaint involving human trafficking and its devastating effects…The complaint is being brought on behalf of 10 guest workers against Signal International (along with several other companies). Findlay Craft’s is one of 12 cases (so far)…

The SPLC lawsuit against Signal continues on behalf of the 12 named plaintiffs. They are represented by Crowell & Moring…; the SPLC; the American Civil Liberties Union…[and others].

The three lawsuits filed in May by Latham & Watkins…, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan…, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton…also are proceeding…More lawsuits are expected to be filed later this year...

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Article
9 August 2013

Hundreds claim Signal International enslaved them for hurricane work

Author: Iulia Filip, Courthouse News Services (USA)

Signal…enslaved and defrauded…foreign workers after charging them thousands of dollars…to be trafficked into the United States to clean up Gulf Coast areas devastated by hurricanes, the workers claim in five lawsuits…In early 2007, Signal fired and deported five of the "camp leaders" for their efforts to organize workers, according to the complaint.  "Early in the morning of March 9, 2007…Signal locked the gate to the camp, blocking the exits," the complaint states. "Signal personnel, including several security guards…identified…five workers…and told them that they were fired and would be deported…[O]ne of the workers…attempted to commit suicide by slashing his wrists…"…Plaintiffs believed, based on Signal's conduct, that requesting improved conditions or asserting their rights to the same would lead to arrest, imprisonment, bodily harm and deportation back to India."…

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Article
21 May 2013

Top US law firms file multiple human trafficking lawsuits against Signal International, LLC

Author: American Civil Liberties Union

…[M]ultiple human trafficking and racketeering lawsuits against Signal...and its network of recruiters and labor brokers…allege that the defendants trafficked over five hundred Indian guestworkers to the United States…and forced them to work for Signal under barbaric conditions…These lawsuits stem from the David v. Signal International LLC case, which was filed in 2008 on behalf of 12 named plaintiffs and a class of Indian guestworkers. After the court denied class certification in David, the SPLC [Southern Poverty Law Center] contacted over half a dozen high-powered law firms, which...agreed to represent the members of the putative class...The David action also continues on behalf of the 12 named plaintiffs…Separately…[in] 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a federal lawsuit against Signal…alleging that the company intentionally discriminated against the same class of Indian guestworkers…

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Item
7 November 2012

EEOC and Sabulal et al v Signal – Proposed First Amended Complaint in Intervention

Author: Thomas P. Fritzsche (Attorney for Plaintiffs-Intervenors)

Proposed first amended complaint in intervention...Count I (Title VII Hostile Work Environment Based on National Origin/Race) (Claim by All Plaintiffs-Intervenors)...Count II (Title VII National Origin/Race Discrimination: Employment Terms & Conditions) (Claim by All Plaintiffs-Intervenors)...Count III (Title VII Retaliation) (Individual Claim for Plaintiffs-Intervenors Vijayan and Kadakkarappally)...

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