Lawsuit highlights psychological coercion in wage theft and forced labor
Denver, CO – A federal jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs Esmeraldo, Maribel, and Justin Echon, finding that the Defendants had violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act and Colorado wage laws.
“The Echon family courageously told their story of forced labor in federal court,” said Matthew Baca, attorney at the Migrant Farm Worker Division of Colorado Legal Services. Colorado Legal Services represents the Echon family. “The family described having been coerced to work for the Defendants for hundreds and hundreds of hours doing hard, unpaid manual labor. Forced labor stories like this are tragically common in Colorado and across the country. But today we are grateful that justice was resoundingly delivered to this family.”
Esmeraldo and Maribel Echon immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, seeking the American dream and a new life for themselves and their children. But they testified at trial that when they settled in with family in rural Rocky Ford, Colorado, their dream turned into a nightmare of unpaid forced labor.
The Echon family described how the Defendants required the Echons and their children to work without pay on the Defendants’ farm, at their roadside market, and in the Defendants’ many rental properties.
“The law says that work is work,” said Jenifer Rodriguez, attorney at the Migrant Farm Worker Division of Colorado Legal Services. “And the Echon family testified that they worked. They told about how as they were forced to work for three years without pay, their American dream receded into the distance.”
The Echon family was brought to the United States by their family and promised a better life. Instead, the family and several other witnesses testified that they were made to work without pay. The family described working rain or shine, hungry or full—for no pay. The family testified that they endured for three years, often without enough food, attempting to leave but failing several times. They described how they were finally able to escape in 2014 with the help of service organizations and friends.
Presentation of the evidence in the case closed this morning, and the jury returned its unanimous verdict of approximately $330,000 in damages this afternoon.
The Migrant Farm Worker Division of Colorado Legal Services provides free legal representation to victims of human trafficking. The Division has been working with the Echon family since 2014.
Colorado Legal Services serves low-income Coloradans on civil legal matters. It is a statewide legal aid program with fifteen offices throughout Colorado. The Migrant Farm Worker Division represents both U.S. workers and temporary foreign workers on a variety of civil legal issues. For more information, please visit http://www.coloradofarmworkers.org/.