STEARNS COUNTY — A dairy operation north of Paynesville is being sued for wage theft and substandard housing, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced on Monday, Jan. 8.
The civil lawsuit against Evergreen Acres alleges the dairy farm failed to pay at least $3 million of vulnerable workers’ earned wages, illegally charging rent for squalid housing and maintaining a culture of fear and violence.
“We have a cost estimate in the restitution area, which is in the realm of $3 million,” Ellison said during a news conference Monday. “Again, that’s an estimate. We’ll learn more as (the litigation) moves forward.”
Evergreen owns and operates five facilities in Stearns County, and another in Redwood County. Evergreen operates a 13 additional facilities, which are owned by third parties, according to the
Evergreen Acres Dairy, Evergreen Estates, Morgan Feedlots and owners Keith Schaefer and Megan Hill are named in the lawsuit, which was filed in Stearns County. In the
Ellison alleges that the dairy farm exploited the vulnerability of its workforce, which is made up of unauthorized workers largely from the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
“Many of its workers find their roots in Mexico and some of them don’t speak very much English at all,” Ellison said. “Evergreen has exploited the vulnerabilities of these workers to deny them their wages by systematically under reporting the number of hours that workers work on their pay stubs.”
Ellison alleges the dairy farm shaved off 12 to 32 hours for each two-week pay period. According to Ellison, the dairy farm also failed to provide employees with written information on how they are paid, something that’s required by law. The attorney general also alleges the business falsified pay stubs and destroyed time cards.
“I could stop there. That’s egregious enough. But this sad reality doesn’t stop there,” Ellison said. “It continues on because Evergreen isn’t just the boss. It’s also a landlord, and the substandard housing they provided workers, who in a rural area had few to no other options for housing, was simply shocking.”
The lawsuit alleges
with no on-site toilet, some in windowless bedrooms with plywood walls, while others have lived in garages, haphazardly converted barns, or other buildings not fit for human habitation, according to a
“They are frankly, not within the bounds of human decency,” Ellison said about the housing. “… Evergreen also violated the law by making unauthorized deductions from workers’ paychecks for this substandard and unsafe housing. That’s just another form of wage theft.”
Numerous Evergreen employees live at a minimum of five different properties owned by the company, according to the lawsuit.
Ellison claims Evergreen also discouraged workers from complaining about the conditions by instilling a culture of fear, intimidation, threats and outright violence.
“It’s hard to describe exactly how I feel about how Evergreen has treated these people, these Minnesotans. But I can tell you one thing: I’m outraged, and I’m upset that they’ve gotten along with it for so long,” Ellison said.
As part of the enforcement action, the office also asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to make
available, Ellison said.
In 2019, Ellison announced a new
Trent Abrego is a business reporter for St. Cloud LIVE and can be reached at email@example.com.
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