SEATTLE — A trial over whether the GEO Group must pay minimum wage — instead of $1 a day — to immigration detainees who perform tasks like cooking and cleaning at its jail in Washington state has ended with a hung jury.
U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan in Tacoma declared a mistrial Thursday following a two-week trial and about two days of deliberation by the nine-person jury, after the jurors indicated they could not reach agreement.
Democratic Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the Florida-based GEO Group in 2017, saying the company had unjustly profited by running the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma on the backs of captive workers.
A separate lawsuit filed on behalf of detainees was also filed that year, seeking back pay. The judge, who rejected several attempts by GEO to dismiss the lawsuits, consolidated the cases for trial, which he conducted via Zoom because of the pandemic.
GEO maintained that the detainees were not employees under the Washington Minimum Wage Act. Even if they were, the company says, it would be unlawfully discriminatory for Washington to require GEO to pay them minimum wage — now $13.69 an hour — when the state doesn’t pay minimum wage to inmates who work at its own prisons or other detention facilities.