Indian workers win $14 million in US labour trafficking case


A federal jury on Wednesday awarded $14.1 million to five Indian guest workers who claimed they were defrauded and made to live in squalid conditions after being lured to work for an Alabama-based marine and fabrication company following Hurricane Katrina.

The jury issued its verdict against Mobile, Alabama-based Signal International LLC and its associates in a civil trial overseen by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. More than 200 other workers’ claims are pending against the company, lawyers said. The plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages.

The suit was filed in 2008, charging that Signal used the federal government’s H-2B guest-worker program to recruit Indians to work as welders and pipefitters at its facilities in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Orange, Texas.

The suit alleged Signal falsely promised to help the workers apply for and receive green cards. But the plaintiffs claimed they were the victims of a labor-trafficking scheme by Signal, an immigration lawyer and an Indian labor recruiter. Signal faces paying $12 million of the damages, plaintiffs lawyers said.

“In short, these workers were sold a bill of goods,” said Alan Howard, a lawyer for Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama civil rights group that represented the Indian workers. “They were victimized and exploited and really taken advantage of.”


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