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Lawyer accuses IPI of concealing workers from feds

THE lawyer of seven injured workers who have sued Imperial Pacific International said the casino developer concealed the workers from federal authorities and forced them to work under dangerous conditions.

Attorney Aaron Helegua represents Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yang in their lawsuit against IPI and its contractors, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC, MMC International Saipan Ltd.

Click to enlarge
The Imperial Pacific Resort Hotel and Casino in Garapan.  The Guam Daily Post file photo

In the 47-page first amendment complaint, IPI was accused of forced labor, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractor.

The amended lawsuit also brings claims under the federal Anti-Trafficking Act, as well as claims under CNMI law for the injuries the workers said they sustained. These included a badly burnt leg, a scalded hand, and a partially severed finger.

The lawsuit alleged that IPI knew about or at a minimum, recklessly disregarded its contractors’ exploitative and illegal practices.

IPI has asked the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit, adding that the injured workers are covered by workers compensation insurance.

“The policy clearly and expressly provides that it covers claims of employees of construction contractors,” IPI added.

Halegua opposed the motion to dismiss, saying the lawsuit has more than adequately stated a plausible claim under the Anti-Trafficking Act for forced labor and trafficking.

Halegua said each defendant had a duty to ensure a safe work environment, “but rather than fix the dangers brought to their attention, defendants allowed them to persist and concealed them from government detection.”

As for IPI’s claims of insurance coverage, Halegua said IPI “cannot establish as a matter of law that this policy was ever intended to cover or actually did cover the hundreds (or maybe thousands) of unauthorized Chinese workers doing construction work on the project.”

He added that such a motion is premature because the plaintiffs have not yet been able to conduct discovery.

As to IPI’s claim that the lawsuit was a “shotgun” pleading, Halegua said the first amended complaint or FAC “subheadings” make it clear which complaints apply to which action and which defendant.

“IPI moves to strike as ‘immaterial’ an entire factual section of the FAC that contains allegations detailing the safety concerns that triggered an OSHA investigation, defendants’ refusal to allow an OSHA inspector onto the site, and the ‘serious’ violations identified by OSHA,” the lawyer said.

He added that these facts are central to the workers’ claims “that defendants sought to conceal plaintiffs from federal authorities and compelled them to work under conditions known to be dangerous.”

IPI has asked the court to stay the proceedings, arguing that “there is an ongoing criminal investigation at IPI.”

But Halegua said IPI did not provide any indictment, subpoena, government communication, or any other such evidence.

The lawyer urged the court to deny the defendants’ motions so that a case management plan can be developed and discovery can commence.

Halegua said in discovery, the plaintiffs will make requests for evidence related to whether IPI’s insurance policy was either intended to cover or actually covered plaintiffs’ injuries.

Halegua also asked for documents that relate to:

  • • Any documents or other evidence that the “operations” contemplated by the IPI policy included the actual construction of the casino resort.
  • • Any documents showing that Imperial Pacific was a “contractor” doing the construction of the casino subject to a “contract” and had then subcontracted out these obligations.
  • • Any contracts or agreements concerning the “subcontracting” out of the casino project construction work by Imperial Pacific.
  • • Any contracts or agreements between Imperial Pacific, Gold Mantis and MCC.
  • • Any documents demonstrating how Imperial Pacific calculated the premiums owed under the IPI policy and the premiums actually paid to the insurance carrier, including after any amendments to the policy.
  • • Any evidence that Imperial Pacific considered or treated plaintiffs as the direct employees of its subcontractor.
  • • Any evidence concerning whether Gold Mantis, at any time, considered plaintiffs to be its “employees” or “direct employees.”
  • • Quarterly workforce listings that Imperial Pacific and Gold Mantis are required to file with the CNMI Department of Labor or any other documents demonstrating who they considered to be their employees.
  • • Any evidence concerning whether Imperial Pacific ever notified plaintiffs or any other unauthorized Chinese construction workers that they were covered under Imperial Pacific’s workers’ compensation policy or otherwise notified them about their rights to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
  • • Any evidence concerning whether Imperial Pacific reported the injuries of plaintiffs or any other unauthorized Chinese construction workers to its insurance carrier.
  • • Any evidence concerning whether Imperial Pacific reported the injuries of plaintiffs or any other unauthorized Chinese construction workers to the workers’ compensation authorities.
  • • Any evidence concerning whether any unauthorized Chinese construction workers ever applied for or collected benefits under the policy.

Recently, IPI agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Labor $3.36 million in back wages, liquidated damages and civil monetary penalties as part of a consent judgment to settle IPI contractors’ labor violations.