NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Guatemalan man and two of his former co-workers have filed a federal lawsuit against a Tennessee landscaping company, accusing the firm of trafficking immigrants for forced labor.
The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/2pmAfi1) that Mynor Chox said he was treated like a servant and threatened with deportation if he complained about working conditions at Outdoors Unlimited landscaping company in Murfreesboro, about 35 miles southeast of Nashville.
Chox, 24, was a college student looking for summer employment during a school break and got a temporary visa known as the H2-B that allowed him to legally work in the United States.
Chox said that when he arrived in Murfreesboro he was forced to live in a trailer in a remote location with 10 others and a "few small, dirty mattresses," all sharing one working toilet.
The men claim they were taken to work sites six days a week but had no way to get to a shop to buy food. They also say in the suit that they routinely worked 60 hours or more per week but were not paid for all their labor. The company deducted $200 per month for housing and utilities.
Several weeks after taking the job, Chong took a cellphone video that captured a confrontation with an unidentified supervisor with the landscaping company. The video shows Chox telling the supervisor that he is hungry and needs money for food.
The profanity-laden video appears to shows the supervisor push Chox down on a gravel road before calling him a name and driving off.
Chox and two former co-workers, Jorge Alvarado and Julian Alvarado, are seeking wages they say were denied to them by the company.
An attorney for Outdoors Unlimited declined to comment, saying ethics rules barred him from commenting on a pending case. Burke Skelton, who owns the company and was named in the lawsuit, did not return a message left at his office. An email message sent to the company on Sunday was not returned. Requests for comment via the Twitter and Facebook pages of Outdoors Unlimited were not returned. Public listings did not provide a home phone or mobile numbers for Skelton.
In legal filings, the company has denied that the men were cheated out of any wages.
The court documents also say the time card system was "incredibly inaccurate" because employees would often lie about the amount of time they worked and would get other workers to punch in for them. The company has also maintained that it wasn't required to pay workers for the time they spent traveling to job sites or when they had to wait for other crews to finish before they began working.
A trial has been set for March 2018 in U.S. District Court in Nashville.