FLDS Church named in lawsuit over child labor; action aims to enforce $1.9 million in penalties

Posted at 9:01 PM, Sep 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-09 23:01:49-04

SOUTHERN UTAH – The U.S. Department of Labor is suing the Fundamentalist LDS Church and others for oppressive child labor practices and other alleged violations, and the action seeks to enforce about $1.9 million in penalties assessed earlier this year.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday afternoon after the department's wage and hour division completed a multi-year investigation involving the FLDS Church, FLDS Church Bishop Lyle Jeffs, Dale Barlow, Brian Jessop, and Paragon Contractors Corp.

The administrative action aims to collect $1.9 million in civil penalties from the plaintiffs, and, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Labor, "The department also filed a lawsuit against the church, Jeffs and Barlow seeking back wages, and initiated a contempt of court action against Jessop and Paragon for violating a 2007 court order that restrained them from violating child labor laws."

The department claims at least 175 children under the age of 13 harvested pecans during the 2012-13 season, and at least 1,400 FLDS children and adults worked without getting paid.

Wednesday's press release alleges FLDS leaders directed schools in Hildale, Utah and nearby Colorado City, Arizona, to be closed so that children and adults could work on harvesting pecans.

“For years, these employers have trampled on the rights of workers, both children and adults, and violated our child labor laws forcing minors to work for them. Such disregard for the rights of all workers, especially children, will not be tolerated,” stated Wage and Hour Division Administrator, Dr. David Weil in the press release. “The legal actions taken today send a clear message that the Wage and Hour Division will take any and all actions necessary to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. Today we speak up for those who could not or would not speak up for themselves.”

The DOL states they have taken administrative action to collect the $1.9 million in penalties, which they stated have already, “become final orders of the department, as those parties did not contest the penalties when they were assessed against them,” according to the press release.