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Indian workers get $1.2 mn in US

A judge awarded 52 Indians as he found an oil equipment manufacturer guilty of fraud and false imprisonment.

india Updated: May 26, 2006 10:45 IST

A federal judge awarded a group of 52 Indian men more than $1.2 million (euro940,000) after finding an oil equipment manufacturer guilty of fraud, false imprisonment and civil rights violations.

Federal judge Clair V Egan's ruling described an environment of threats and intimidation, daily harassment and open hostility from management at the John Pickle Co.

"Defendants recruited Indian workers in India, brought them to the United States, housed and fed them separately from the non-Indian JPC employees, identified them as Indians and made numerous discriminatory comments about their ancestry, ethnic background, culture, and country," Egan wrote.

The verdict, first reported by the Tulsa World, came more than four years after the workers left the west Tulsa factory. They told of being forced to work long hours for only a few dollars per day. The men accused the company of making them live in a dormitory on the factory grounds and keeping them from leaving the factory grounds even when off-duty.

If divided equally, each worker might receive more than $20,000 (euro15,680). Federal attorneys, who joined the lawsuit on the side of the workers, had asked the judge for $5.5 million (euro4.3 million) in back wages and damages.

Lead plaintiffs' attorney Ken Felty said while his clients did not get that amount, the judgment still ranks as the first million-dollar verdict in a case of this kind.

"This case wasn't about the money," Felty said. "It was about making sure that something like this doesn't happen again, that more workers aren't exploited and more people are mistreated."

John Pickle Co. ceased operations shortly after the Indian employees left the company and filed the lawsuit.

After the workers left and throughout the trial, the company maintained its innocence.

The men, 52 in all, received help from members of a nearby Pentecostal church, and have since scattered across the US, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Colorado, Lousiana and Texas.

The single largest group, 15 to 20 of the plaintiffs, works for ConocoPhillips in Ponca City, Oklahoma and some remain in Tulsa.

First Published: May 25, 2006 23:20 IST