A LAWSUIT was filed on Tuesday, June 25, accusing the luxury Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah of using interns from the Philippines to do menial jobs for long hours with minimal pay.
Represented by Asian Americans Advancing Justice and other organizations, the four plaintiffs — namely, Jann Descanzo, Veronica Bondoc, Glen Segundino and Marianne Ponio — filed the lawsuit that says the Grand America Hotel misused a type of visa similar to an internship program intended for training and cultural immersion and instead treated them like normal workers to avoid travel costs and other fees.
The four interns were brought in on a J-1 Visa, a program intended to provide opportunities for foreign visitors to experience U.S. society and culture.
The lawsuit also said that each participant at the Grand America paid more than $3,000 each to become interns as well as their own travel costs.
“Defendants did not provide [the participant] the internship experience he was promised. Rather, Defendants employed [them] at the Grand America Hotel as nothing more than a low-wage worker Defendants needed to operate the hotel,” the lawsuit stated.
The J-1 Visa has a set guideline that says state participants “must not be used as substitutes for ordinary employment or work purposes; nor may they be used under any circumstances to displace American workers.”
The lawsuit, however, claimed that the Filipino interns were forced to work up to 60 hours a week and do less desirable jobs than other employees.
It also alleged that the supervisors called them “slow” and “lazy,” as well as threatened with deportation when they complained about the hotel not following the internship plan.
“The hotel threatened plaintiffs with deportation if they did not do the work they were ordered to perform,” the lawsuit stated.
The Filipino interns were reportedly promised the opportunity to visit go to a Dickens Christmas festival, a winter solstice festival, the zoo, and a dance festival as cultural experiences, but none of those things happened.
Attorneys are seeking to make it a class-action lawsuit, believing that around 100 workers endured the same treatment.
They also referred to a 2011 Homeland Security investigation into the Grand America Hotel that found the hotel employing 133 workers without proper documentation to work in the United States.
“Stymied in their attempts to use undocumented labor, defendants turned to non-immigrant visa programs, including the J-1 visa internship program, to import cheap foreign labor to operate the hotel,” the lawsuit said.