Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison initiated one of the most significant wage theft lawsuits in the state’s history today.
Filed in Stearns County this morning, the lawsuit targets Evergreen Acres Dairy, a consortium of dairy operations owned by Keith Schaefer and his daughter, Megan Hill.
The suit alleges a failure to compensate workers for both regular and overtime hours, exploiting an unauthorized workforce to withhold significant sums rightfully earned by employees. The total amount in question is $3 million.
According to the lawsuit, workers endure demanding and hazardous 12-hour shifts six days a week, with Evergreen systematically underreporting their hours on pay stubs, slashing 12 to 24 hours from each two-week pay period.
“Evergreen got away with this despicable conduct for far too long, and my office is putting a stop to it,” Ellison said in a Facebook post. “Thanks to the brave workers who stepped forward, we’re going to hold Evergreen accountable, and send a clear message: we will fight to make sure every Minnesota worker takes home every dollar they’ve earned — no exceptions.”
The lawsuit stems from an investigation triggered by workers in Stearns and Redwood counties, revealing claims of wage withholding and retaliation within the company. Allegations involve over a dozen employees, citing falsified time cards, payment discrepancies, and retaliatory measures against dairy farmers questioning their wages. Ellison estimates the owed sum to workers to be around $3 million, seeking liquidated damages, civil penalties, costs, and attorney fees.
Describing it as one of their most substantial cases to date, Ellison emphasizes the pursuit of justice in wage theft, ensuring every worker in Minnesota receives their deserved earnings, regardless of employer size or worker vulnerability.
In addition to financial misconduct, the state accuses Schaefer of physical aggression toward an injured employee, threatening eviction from substandard housing if they didn’t return to work. Another case involves a terminated employee who, after sustaining work-related injuries, the attorney general said was deprived of their final paycheck.
The state said its lawsuit exposes Evergreen’s employment practices that include hiring numerous individuals — many unauthorized workers from Mexico with limited English proficiency — over the past three years.
Ellison’s office suggests there’s a potential for additional charges by Stearns and Redwood county attorneys against Evergreen. No response from Evergreen was available at the time of this article’s publication.
This legal action follows legislative steps taken in 2019, establishing a wage theft unit to bolster worker protection and investigations. A newly enacted law also means that employers found guilty of exploiting their employees could face felony charges, 20 years in prison, and fines up to $100,000.
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Author: Heidi Crnkovic