A trial over whether the GEO Group must pay minimum wage — instead of $1 a day — to immigration detainees who perform tasks like cooking and cleaning at its for-profit detention center in Washington state has ended with a hung jury.
U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan in Tacoma declared a mistrial Thursday after the nine-person jury indicated they could not reach unanimous agreement following a two-week trial and about two days of deliberation.
“Nobody's happy, but nobody lost,” Bryan told the attorneys afterward.
Democratic Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the Florida-based GEO Group in 2017, saying the company had unjustly profited by running the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma — now known as the Northwest ICE Processing Center — on the backs of captive workers.
A separate lawsuit filed on behalf of detainees was also filed that year, seeking back pay. The judge, who rejected several attempts by GEO to dismiss the lawsuits, consolidated the cases for trial, which he conducted via Zoom because of the pandemic.
The judge said he expected that the cases would be set for a new trial.
“GEO, a multi-billion-dollar for-profit prison corporation that is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, pays workers $1 a day or less to perform essential services necessary to maintain the Northwest ICE Processing Center," Ferguson said in a written statement Thursday. “A hung jury allows us to re-try the claim again in front of a new jury.”
GEO maintained that the detainees were not employees under the Washington Minimum Wage Act. Even if they were, the company said, it would be unlawfully discriminatory for Washington to require GEO to pay them minimum wage — now $13.69 an hour — when the state doesn't pay minimum wage to inmates who work at its own prisons or other detention. facilities.