Attorney General Bonta Leads Multistate Coalition in Defense of State Minimum Wage Protections for Employees of Federal Contractors

Friday, May 27, 2022
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Pushes back on efforts by for-profit prison operator to evade minimum wage laws

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a coalition of 16 attorneys general in an amicus brief in defense of state minimum wage protections for employees of federal contractors in Washington v. GEO Group. The case centers around a lawsuit filed in 2017 by the State of Washington challenging GEO Group, Inc.’s (GEO) failure to pay state minimum wages to individuals who worked for GEO during their confinement to GEO’s private, for-profit detention facility while awaiting the outcome of civil immigration proceedings. In the friend-of-the-court brief, the coalition highlights the critical importance of state minimum wage protections, pushes back on GEO’s efforts to evade broadly applicable wage and hour laws, and urges the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to affirm the lower court’s judgment.

“Everyone deserves fair and sufficient pay for a day’s work,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Doing business with the federal government isn’t a green light to shirk generally applicable labor protections. Minimum wage laws protect the dignity of work and the financial security of working people across the nation. I respectfully ask the Ninth Circuit to apply the law equally. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the rights of workers everywhere.”

In 2017, the State of Washington and individual plaintiffs filed lawsuits against GEO challenging its failure to pay the state minimum wage to civil immigration detainees who worked for the company while confined to its privately-owned facility in Tacoma. For years, GEO paid these workers $1 per day — well below Washington’s minimum wage, which ranged between $7.35 and $13.69 during the years when GEO relied on civil detainee labor to run its facility. In 2021, a federal jury determined GEO violated Washington’s minimum wage laws and ordered the company to pay all its workers at least the state minimum wage. Despite the decision, GEO continues to assert that, as a federal contractor, it should not have to comply with the state’s broadly applicable wage laws. In the amicus brief, the coalition makes it clear that selling goods or services to the federal government does not place a private employer beyond the reach of a state’s minimum wage or other wage and hour laws.

In the amicus brief, the coalition asserts:

  • States have broad authority to regulate employment, including minimum wages;
  • Broadly applicable wage and hour laws protect workers, guard against exploitation, promote job creation, and support thriving labor markets;
  • The intergovernmental immunity doctrine does not exempt private employers from broadly applicable state minimum wage statutes; and
  • The Ninth Circuit should affirm the district court’s judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta is joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

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