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GEO Comments On Unfavorable Jury Verdict And Judgment In Detainee Minimum Wage Cases

A private prison company GEO Group (GEO) commented Thursday on the recent unfavorable jury verdict and combined $23.2 million judgments in the retrial of two cases, State of Washington v. GEO Group and Nwauzor et al. v. GEO Group, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

GEO said it strongly disagrees with the verdict and judgments in the retrial of the lawsuits. GEO intends to raise several issues on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, including the applicability of the state of Washington's Minimum Wage Act to detainees who participate in the federally-mandated Voluntary Work Program at the Northwest ICE Processing Center, and the affirmative defenses that GEO believes were wrongly dismissed in these cases.

On Tuesday, The U.S. Judge ordered GEO Group to surrender $5.9 million in unjust enrichment gained through the use of $1 per day labor, after jury awards $17.3 million in back pay to detainee workers.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan ordered The GEO Group, the for-profit operator of the Northwest ICE Processing Center, to pay $5.9 million, the amount GEO unlawfully gained through the use of $1-per-day labor since 2005.

The workers performed essential tasks while detained at the Center such as doing the laundry, preparing and serving food and cleaning the facility. The work included cooking and serving three meals a day, scrubbing showers and toilets, cleaning the walk-in oven, and buffing and waxing the floors in the middle of the night.

In the first phase of the trial, a jury unanimously found GEO liable for violating Washington's Minimum Wage Act. Consequently, GEO must now pay all its workers at least Washington's minimum wage. Washington's current minimum wage is $13.69 per hour.

In the second phase, the same jury awarded $17.3 million to more than 10,000 individuals detained at the Northwest ICE Processing Center to compensate them for back wages owed.

Washington is the first state to sue a for-profit detention center for failure to pay minimum wage and for unjust enrichment. Ferguson filed the lawsuit against GEO in September 2017, alleging that GEO's practice violates Washington law by paying workers less than the minimum wage, and that GEO unjustly enriched itself by doing so.

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