Former CNMI Labor chief says Gold Mantis apartment for workers ‘not fit for human beings’

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FORMER CNMI Department of Labor Secretary Edith Deleon Guerrero said that in April 2017, she learned that a group of Chinese construction workers employed by Gold Mantis had not been paid their wages.

She said they had also complained about the poor conditions of the place where they were living.

In her declaration in support of the seven workers’ petition for damages against Imperial Pacific International LLC, Deleon Guerrero stated that at one point in April or May 2017, a group of workers came to her office.

“They stated that they had suffered physical injuries while working for Gold Mantis…they stated that they wanted to see a doctor,” she said, adding that she arranged for the workers to be taken to the Commonwealth Health Center.

Deleon Guerrero said she also visited the apartment where some of the Gold Mantis workers were living.

“I vividly remember the toilet bowl and shower being faulty and nasty,” she added.

Deleon Guerrero said she also remembered the horrible stench from the trash.

“I believed that it was not proper for human beings to live in that place,” she added.

Deleon Guerrero said she instructed her staffers to take pictures.

“I decided that these conditions were inhumane and the workers must be moved to other housing [units],” she said.

The plaintiffs have submitted their detailed declarations; three expert declarations; two fact witness declarations; as well as photographs, medical records, and other evidence in support of their petition for damages, their attorney, Aaron Halegua, said.

IPI does not question the veracity of the plaintiffs’ declarations, the categories of damages sought, or the calculations employed, Halegua added.

Represented by Halegua and attorney Bruce Berline, the plaintiffs are Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yan. They are construction workers who were employed by MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and/or Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI).

They are asking the federal court to  award them $3.86 million in compensatory damages and $7.72 million in punitive damages.

IPI, and its contractor and subcontractor MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI), were sued by the plaintiffs for forced labor, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractors.

The plaintiffs’ first amended complaint also claimed human trafficking under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, as well as claims under CNMI law for the physical injuries that the plaintiffs said they suffered at the construction project site.

Halegua said the arguments of IPI  focus entirely on liability, “which is irrelevant to the upcoming hearing.”

The only evidence that IPI has submitted relates to an alleged, indecipherable “meritorious defense,” he said.

“Nonetheless, IPI takes the position that it should be afforded an opportunity to cross-examine [the] plaintiffs.”

Halegua added that the only justification for demanding cross-examination is that “IPI believes…it has found meritorious defenses in thousands of documents produced….”

But Halegua said the IPI defenses are irrelevant to determining damages and thus would not even be a proper subject of cross-examination.

Halegua requested the court to determine damages without involving live witness testimony.

He said the IPI history of delay and precarious financial situation also weigh in favor of resolving this matter expeditiously.

“Furthermore, IPI’s suggestion that the electronically stored information data it never produced may contain evidence relevant to damages underscores the propriety of deeming the evidence submitted by [the] plaintiffs to be sufficient,” Halegua said.

IPI, for its part, requested District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona to set aside her ruling against IPI for its failure to comply with court sanctions relating to previous discovery orders.

IPI is willing to pay all outstanding sanctions but needs time to pay, its lawyer Michael Dotts said.

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