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AG Nessel Defends State Minimum Wage Protections for Employees of Federal Contractors

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 16 attorneys general, led by California, in an amicus brief in defense of state minimum wage protections for employees of federal contractors in Washington v. GEO Group. The case centers around a lawsuit filed in 2017 by the State of Washington challenging GEO Group, Inc.’s (GEO) failure to pay state minimum wages to individuals who worked for GEO during their confinement to GEO’s private, for-profit detention facility while awaiting the outcome of civil immigration proceedings. In the amicus brief, the coalition highlights the critical importance of state minimum wage protections, pushes back on GEO’s efforts to evade broadly applicable wage and hour laws, and urges the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to affirm the lower court’s judgment. 

“As attorney general, protecting the residents of our state from exploitation is a top priority,” Nessel said. “The Michigan minimum wage is currently $9.87 an hour and through their unfair labor practices, GEO Group, a private business, attempted to clothe itself in federal immunity and exploit immigrant workers to circumvent minimum wage laws. I stand with my colleagues in asserting that state minimum wage laws are applicable to any entity that conducts business in a state regardless of the entity’s status as a federal contractor.” 

 In 2017, the State of Washington and individual plaintiffs filed lawsuits against GEO challenging its failure to pay the state minimum wage to civil immigration detainees who worked for the company while confined to its privately-owned facility in Tacoma. For years, GEO paid these workers $1 per day — well below Washington’s minimum wage, which ranged between $7.35 and $13.69 during the years when GEO relied on civil detainee labor to run its facility. In 2021, a federal jury determined GEO violated Washington’s minimum wage laws and ordered the company to pay all its workers at least the state minimum wage. Despite the decision, GEO continues to assert that, as a federal contractor, it should not have to comply with the state’s broadly applicable wage laws. In the amicus brief, the coalition makes it clear that selling goods or services to the federal government does not place a private employer beyond the reach of a state’s minimum wage or other wage and hour laws. 

In the amicus brief, the coalition asserts: 

  • states have broad authority to regulate employment, including minimum wages; 
  • broadly applicable wage and hour laws protect workers, guard against exploitation, promote job creation, and support thriving labor markets; 
  • the intergovernmental immunity doctrine does not exempt private employers from broadly applicable state minimum wage statutes; and 
  • the Ninth Circuit should affirm the district court’s judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. 

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.