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Federal court rebukes FLDS-affiliated business in child labor case
SALT LAKE CITY – A federal judge has ordered Brian Jessop and Paragon Contractors Corp., to make an initial payment of $200,000 to compensate hundreds of children who were employed illegally and not paid for their labor on a pecan ranch between 2008-2013. Jessop and Paragon coordinated with the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints to use children and others in the church for field work.
A multi-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division revealed that the employers used underage workers illegally to harvest pecans by hand in southern Utah.
On Dec. 6, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell ordered the $200,000 payment to a fund to pay back wages and that a special master be appointed to conduct unannounced work site investigations over a five-year period to ensure that the court’s order is followed. The court also requires that Jessop and Paragon notify the special master and the Wage and Hour Division before beginning work at any location, provide records on employees and allow investigators unfettered access to job sites. In June, the court found the employers in contempt of a 2007 order forbidding the employer’s illegal use of child labor.
“We are committed to utilizing every tool at our disposal to stop oppressive child labor, secure payment of workers’ lawful wages and compel employers to obey the law,” said Wage and Hour Division Administrator Dr. David Weil. “The employers in this case have long demonstrated a willful disregard for the welfare of minors, refusing to compensate them and adult workers who have toiled in their fields. We will uphold the prohibition against the illegal use of child labor. We will also ensure that the promise of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work extends to workers in every sector, be it in construction or in the pecan fields.”
In its investigation, the division found leaders of the FLDS-directed schools in Hildale and nearby Colorado City, Arizona, be closed to allow children and adult laborers to harvest pecans. During the 2012-2013 harvest, investigators found church leaders put hundreds of children under the age of 13 to work in the pecan fields. Witnesses testified that up to 4,000 children and adults in the church worked for no compensation.
In September 2015, the department initiated a contempt of court action against Jessop and Paragon for violating the 2007 court order. In a separate suit, the department continues to seek back wages, damages and injunctive relief against additional defendants, including the FLDS church, Lyle Jeffs and Dale Barlow.
A separate administrative action seeking $1.9 million in civil penalties from Jessop, Paragon and Barlow remains unresolved. The penalties are associated with the child labor violations from the 2012-2013 pecan harvest. Penalty assessments against the FLDS church and Jeffs for the same violations have already become final orders of the department, as those parties did not contest the penalties when they were assessed against them.
“For years, we have successfully litigated numerous enforcement actions to investigate and put an end to the illegal use of child labor by Paragon and the FLDS church, and to ensure that all workers are compensated in accordance with the law,” said Associate Regional Solicitor John Rainwater in the department’s Office of the Solicitor in Denver. “The employers have refused repeatedly to cooperate and provide information in an effort to delay and thwart our efforts. This most recent court decision is but one more victory in our determined effort to uphold the rule of law and vital worker protections, particularly when the workers are children, who are among the most vulnerable.”
Workers or the parents of minor children employed in the pecan harvesting operations between 2008-2013 are eligible to submit a claim for back wage payments and are encouraged to contact the Wage and Hour Division office in Salt Lake City at (801) 524-5706 or (866) 487-9243 to make a claim.
Workers and employers can get more information about federal wage laws administered by the division by calling the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Workers can also file complaints confidentially. More information is also available online at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.