HONOLULU (AP) — A judge on the U.S. Pacific island of Saipan on Monday ordered a Hong Kong company to pay seven Chinese construction workers a total of $5.4 million for forcing them to work long hours in dangerous conditions to build a casino, while they were denied medical care for injuries and threatened with deportation and death.
Chief Judge Ramona Manglona of the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, said she issued her ruling after Hong Kong’s Imperial Pacific International repeatedly failed to comply with court orders to exchange information with the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.
The award covers lost income and future lost income for the workers, payments for emotional distress, pain and suffering as well as punitive damages.
Imperial Pacific International did not immediately return a message seeking comment sent to an email address on its website.
The plaintiffs sued Imperial Pacific together with Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC and MCC International Saipan, Ltd. The latter two companies settled with the plaintiffs previously.
Separately in 2018, U.S. officials announced settlements requiring Gold Mantis, MCC and two other Chinese construction firms to pay 2,400 workers on the casino project $14 million in back wages and damages.
U.S. officials said the companies, who were contracted by Imperial Pacific, brought workers to Saipan on tourist visas, paid them less than required by law and failed to secure proper work authorization by exploiting a visa waiver program that allows Chinese citizens to travel to the Northern Mariana Islands.
In Tuesday’s ruling, Manglona found plaintiff Tianming Wang suffered burns to his lower left leg when a spark ignited as he was cutting a metal barrel under the direction of his Gold Mantis supervisor. The supervisor told Wang he would be arrested if he went to the hospital and instead gave him two rolls of gauze. A doctor who later examined Wang said he suffered chronic pain and numbness and his left muscles had atrophied. Wang struggles to walk for more than 15 minutes and has been unable to work since returning to China, the judge said.
The judge said Imperial Pacific “was deeply involved with selecting and supervising the contractors.” She said Imperial Pacific knew its contractors’ policies on work hours and punishments, carried out health and safety inspections, housed the workers and and transported workers to and from construction site.
The judge awarded the seven plaintiffs $5.9 million in damages from Imperial Pacific, but subtracted the amount Gold Mantis and MCC had already agreed to pay them from the total.
Audrey Mcavoy, The Associated Press