The answer my friends, is a strange lawsuit.  Recently, a lawsuit was filed in Birmingham, in the Jefferson County Circuit Court, alleging violations of the state law known as the “Jack Williams and Merika Coleman Act”, dealing with human trafficking, as well as a violation of the federal FLSA for the alleged failure to pay overtime.  The Plaintiff was employed at the Defendant Restaurant, and was managed/supervised by the individually named second Defendant.  Plaintiff was employed at Defendant restaurant as a laborer, and alleged that he worked 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, totaling 70 hours a week, without receiving overtime pay.  The individual Defendant allegedly “made plaintiff falsely believe that plaintiff could not secure alternative employment elsewhere, given his immigration status” except at the Defendant restaurant, and thus he “remained in [labor] servitude.”

The Alabama law known as the “Jack Williams and Merika Coleman Act” defines “Human trafficking in the second degree”, in part, as:

Section 13A-6-153(a) A person commits the crime of human trafficking in the second degree if:

  • A person knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture or engagement for the purpose of sexual servitude or labor servitude.
  • A person knowingly recruits, entices, solicits, induces, harbors, transports, holds, restrains, provides, maintains, subjects or obtains by any means another person for the purpose of labor servitude or sexual servitude.

Section 13A-6-157 – Civil action by victims; relief awarded

An Individual who is a victim of human trafficking may bring a civil action in the appropriate state court.  The court may award actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, and any other appropriate relief.  A prevailing plaintiff shall also be awarded attorney’s fees and costs.  Treble damages shall be awarded on proof of actual damages where defendant’s acts were willful and malicious.

This lawsuit was just filed on May 27, 2015, and it will be interesting to see where it goes.  Although there may have been similar suits previously filed in Alabama, this is the first one I am aware of.

Practice pointers.

  1. These statutes are both CRIMINAL and civil in nature.  A criminal conviction is classified as a Class B Felony, which can result in imprisonment and fines.  Both INDIVIDUALS and CORPORATIONS can be criminally liable.
  2. The relief available in a civil action can be severe, with actual and punitive damages, treble damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.  These cases can be tried before a jury.
  3. There is also a forfeiture provision in criminal cases which requires the forfeiture “to the State of Alabama any profits or proceeds and any interest in property that he or she has acquired or maintained that the sentencing court determines to have been acquired or maintained as a result of committing human trafficking in the first degree or human trafficking in the second degree.”
  4. Employers in Birmingham and around Alabama need to be aware of the consequences of violating these human trafficking statutes.  It is important to use E-Verify, properly complete I-9’s and otherwise comply with state and federal laws governing the employment of non-US citizens.
  5. The addition of FLSA claims further exposes employers to costly damages, including back wages, possibly double damages, attorney’s fees and costs, and possible criminal convictions.

It is possible that more and more of these lawsuits will be filed, exposing employers and individuals to severe monetary consequences, and the possible forfeiture of assets, which can result in the total shut down of the business, not to mention possible criminal convictions?