7 workers who sued IPI seek $11.5M in damages

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THE seven construction workers who have sued Imperial Pacific International LLC are asking the federal court to award them a total of $11.58 million in damages — $3.86 million in compensatory damages and $7.72 million in punitive damages.  

They are also seeking an award for attorneys’ fees and costs.

Represented by attorneys Aaron Halegua and Bruce Berline, the plaintiffs are Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yan.

On June 12, 2020, District Court for the NMI  Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona entered a default judgment against IPI for its “repeated failures to comply with discovery orders.”

The judge then directed the plaintiffs to submit a petition for damages and set a hearing for Aug. 7.

IPI and its former contractor and subcontractor, MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI), were sued by the plaintiffs for forced labor, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractors.

The plaintiffs are also accusing the defendants of human trafficking under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, as well as claims under CNMI law for the physical injuries the plaintiffs said they suffered at the construction project.

The former contractor and subcontractor of IPI employed the plaintiffs.

In a petition for damages, Halegua stated that the plaintiffs were defrauded into paying enormous fees for work in Saipan, indebting themselves to family, friends, or loan sharks, only to spend each day in fear of being beaten, fired, fined, or deported.

They were treated like “machines,” not humans, working 13-hour days for less than minimum wage without a day off in up to five months, Halegua said.

“It was the most dangerous worksite that plaintiffs had ever seen — tired workers performing evening shifts high up on the casino scaffolding with no safety nets,” he added.

He said the plaintiffs were humiliated by their bosses calling them “heigong” (illegal workers) and ridiculed for being stupid because they paid recruitment fees for their jobs.

“Their employers were indifferent to their suffering: no medical attention was offered for plaintiffs’ scalded hands, burnt legs, or bloody ankles,” Halegua said.

“The impact of this conduct by IPI and its contractors on plaintiffs’ lives has been ruinous.

“Plaintiffs have been told for years that they need surgery on their fractured or severed fingers, but lack the few thousand dollars for the procedure. They still have nightmares from their abuse in Saipan and fear being retaliated against for filing this lawsuit.”

Halegua said IPI “not only condoned this inhumane treatment, but actively participated in and benefitted from the forced labor scheme.”

He added,  “When [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] discovered that 80 workers were seriously injured in a single year, IPI still denied the inspector access to the site. IPI provided the decrepit dorm that lacked a certificate of occupancy. It took no action upon seeing unpaid workers protest or being told that workers on tourist visas were building its casino.”

Halegua said the plaintiffs’ request for compensation “is eminently reasonable even foregoing some category of damages.”

He said the plaintiffs “are not seeking damages for the money spent on medicine and doctor’s visits over the past three years since their injuries.  However,  plaintiffs do not waive their right to seek these categories of damages from MCC and/or Gold Mantis later in this litigation.”

Halegua said as IPI “now pleads poverty, plaintiffs fear the further indignity of being unable to collect on a judgment.”

The lawyer asked the court for a quick resolution of the plaintiffs’ petition for damages.

IPI, represented by attorney Mike Dotts, earlier said his client is likely to appeal the default judgement and file a motion for stay.

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