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PRESS RELEASE
4-20-11

EEOC Sues Marine Services Company for Labor Trafficking, Discrimination

Signal International Harassed and Mistreated Workers Recruited From India, Federal Agency Charged

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit today against Signal International, LLC, charging that the Gulf of Mexico marine services company violated federal law by subjecting a class of approximately 500 Indian employees to human labor trafficking and a hostile work environment. 

The EEOC charged in its lawsuit that Signal subjected the Indian employees as a class to abuse based on national origin (Indian) and/or race (Asian). The agency charged Signal with disparate, discriminatory treatment concerning the workers’ terms and conditions of employment, as well as segregating them. Finally, the EEOC lawsuit alleges Signal retaliated against Sabulal Vijayan and Joseph Jacob Kadakkarappally because they opposed Signal’s unlawful conduct. 

Signal required the Indian employees to live in modular trailers called “man camps,” enclosed by fences, built by Signal for the Indian employees. Signal charged the Indian employees more than $30 daily for housing and food. The EEOC said that the living facilities, food and overall living conditions were intolerable, demeaning and unsanitary. The agency’s complaint also said that Signal assigned numbers to each Indian employee and used these numbers as a form of identification and reference rather than using the employee’s name.

Signal had recruited the employees to work as welders, pipefitters, and ship fitters in Mississippi and Texas. Signal had recruited, tested and offered employment to each employee pursuant to the federal government’s H-2B guest worker program.  

On Jan. 19, 2011, the EEOC held public hearings on government-wide efforts to combat human trafficking and forced labor.  The EEOC announced today that this case and others are being brought to combat discriminatory practices regarding foreign laborers.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits national origin and race discrimination and retaliation for opposing discriminatory practices. The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Southern Division, in Gulfport (EEOC v. Signal International, LLC Civ. No. ___ after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the class members and injunctive relief, including training for Signal on national origin and race discrimination and retaliation. 

“The injustice here towards Indian workers solicited to come to the United States violated the mandates of federal law,” said Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director for the Birmingham District Office. “Employers cannot avoid anti-discrimination laws by seeking to hire workers from other countries.”

C. Emanuel Smith, regional attorney for the EEOC's Birmingham District Office, added, “Title VII clearly protects employees recruited to work in the United States from unlawful discriminatory practices. The EEOC is committed to ensuring a workplace free from unlawful discrimination for all workers in this country. This litigation is a step in that direction.”

In a similar court filing, the Los Angeles Office of EEOC today filed suit against Global Horizons and related companies alleging labor trafficking, discrimination and harassment of Thai farm workers brought into the U.S.

According to company information, Signal is a leading Gulf of Mexico provider of marine and fabrication services, including new construction, heavy fabrication and offshore drilling rig and ship overhaul, repair, upgrade and conversion. The company employs more than 1,500 people. Signal’s corporate offices are in Mobile, Ala., with production facilities in Pascagoula, Miss., and Orange, Texas.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws against employment discrimination. Further information is available at www.eeoc.gov.