MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has filed a lawsuit Monday against a large Minnesota dairy farm, Evergreen Acres. In the lawsuit, Ellison alleges that Evergreen Acres failed to pay at least $3 million of workers' earned pay.
According to court documents, the lawsuit was filed against Evergreen Acres Dairy, Evergreen Estates, Morgan Feedlots and the operations' owners, Keith Schaefer and Megan Hill. Ellison alleges Evergreen Acres stole wages from dairy employees by taking both regular and overtime hours from workers' paychecks. In addition, Evergreen Acres is also being accused of not paying employees for time worked at the beginning and end of workers' employment.
Court documents allege the dairy operation unlawfully deducted rent from workers' paychecks for substandard onsite housing, which Ellison says does not meet the standards of habitability under Minnesota law. The lawsuit alleges that some workers live in windowless bedrooms with unfinished electrical sockets and just space heaters for warmth. Also, reportedly, most of the housing has severe insect infestations and other health and safety issues.
Ellison's lawsuit alleges that the employee housing violates "Minnesota’s most basic health and safety standards." Photo courtesy: Minnesota Attorney General's Office
The lawsuit is looking to have Evergreen give back employees' unpaid wages, and is also asking for liquidated damages, civil penalties, costs and attorney fees, Ellison said.
"Every worker deserves to take home every dollar they earn and live with dignity, safety, and respect. That Evergreen systemically and deliberately deprived its employees of all the wages they have earned is a shock to the conscience, and the conditions under which its employees live are abhorrent and illegal," Ellison said.
Ellison says many of Evergreen's workers are unauthorized workers from Mexico, and he alleges Evergreen takes advantage of that by demanding 12-hour shifts and six-day work weeks.
According to Ellison, Evergreen allegedly attempted to cover up these practices by failing to document most of its employment practices in writing, which is illegal. It also allegedly failed to give employees written information about how they are paid and fabricated paystubs. The lawsuit states the dairy operation destroyed timecards, which are required to be kept.
Court documents say Evergreen subjects its employee-tenants to unannounced inspections of employee housing and workers do not have a choice of which housing they live in. Allegedly, when an employee is fired or quits, they are evicted from their homes without notice and their final paychecks are withheld.
Ellison alleges Shaefer grabbed an employee by the neck and pushed them into a wall when the worker was injured on the job and wasn't able to work. He also allegedly told the worker they would be evicted from their onsite housing in 10 minutes if they "did not return to work immediately."
"I want to thank the courageous workers who came forward, despite Evergreen’s threats, to help our Office hold Evergreen accountable for its numerous violations of the law. Without them, this action would not have been possible," Ellison said.
Workers with wage theft concerns or complaints can contact the Attorney General's Office on this online form.