Appeals Court to Review Louisiana Hotel Workers’ Post-Katrina Lawsuit

March 26, 2010

A federal appeals court has agreed to review the dismissal of a lawsuit that accused a New Orleans hotelier of exploiting foreign workers it recruited after Hurricane Katrina.

In February 2009, a three-judge panel from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employers aren’t obligated to cover the moving costs and other expenses incurred by many immigrant workers.

But the full court announced that it will again hear the case against Decatur Hotels. Fourteen of the court’s 16 judges will hear arguments for the case on a date yet to be determined.

The suit accused Decatur of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act when it refused to reimburse foreign workers for recruitment, transportation and visa expenses after the August 2005 storm.

After Katrina scattered many of its employees, Decatur hired dozens of guest workers, who spent up to $5,000 apiece to move to New Orleans from Bolivia, Peru and the Dominican Republic.

Mary Bauer, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney who represents Decatur’s immigrant workers, said she is encouraged that the full 5th Circuit will hear the case.

“We think that the Department of Labor has made clear what its position is, and that they are affirming their 30-year policy of being on the workers’ side,” she said.

Scott Day, Decatur’s president and CEO, said the 5th Circuit’s dismissal of the case gave businesses the confidence to use the H-2B visa program without fear of violating federal regulations.

“It is unfortunate that this matter became a legal issue to start with, being that Decatur Hotels’ sole objective in using the program was to legally bring the temporary workers to help revitalize the great city of New Orleans post-Katrina,” he said in a statement.

Decatur owns and operates eight hotels in New Orleans. It employed about 650 workers before Katrina but lost all but 90 to 110 of them after the storm.

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