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New Orleans jury could soon decide ‘guest worker’ lawsuit

February 13, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Weeks of trial in a years-old lawsuit claiming a marine services company defrauded guest workers from India and subjected them to forced labor are nearing an end in New Orleans.

A jury began deliberations this week in the 2008 lawsuit against Signal International. The trial began in mid-January. Issues of liability and possible damages were being deliberated by jurors who began work Wednesday and were to continue meeting Friday.

It’s one of multiple lawsuits backed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of workers brought to the Gulf Coast on temporary work visas who were allegedly misled, subjected to substandard housing and falsely promised “green cards” allowing them to stay in the U.S.

Signal, headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, has denied wrongdoing and, in court records and testimony, has pointed fingers at a labor recruitment firm and an immigration lawyer who are co-defendants in the case.

SPLC filed the lawsuit on behalf of 12 people in 2008. A judge refused to grant class-action status allowing the suit that would have benefited many other Signal guest workers, the SPLC brought together numerous law firms and civil rights organizations to represent hundreds of workers.

Among the allegations outlined by the SPLC are that recruiters contracted by Signal charged laborers more than $10,000 each to come to the United States with false promises of residency. Guest workers allegedly were isolated in labor camps and charged more than $1,000 a month for space in crowded, unsanitary trailers.

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