Kiawah and Jamaican workers reach $2.3 million deal to end lawsuit

Kiawah Island Golf Resort (above) has settled a lawsuit alleging Jamaican workers weren't paid enough. File/Staff

A federal judge has approved a $2.3 million settlement of a lawsuit that alleged Kiawah Island Golf Resort underpaid Jamaican guest workers.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the complaint on behalf of the workers in March 2015. Both sides agreed to the settlement in June. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel signed it Friday.

“When workers use our nation’s guest worker program, they expect that a very basic promise will be upheld: They will be paid the wages they earn,” Jim Knoepp, senior attorney for the center, said in a statement Tuesday.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 240 workers who were brought to the upscale seaside resort from Jamaica on H-2B guest worker visas to work as housekeepers, servers and other similar positions from 2012 through 2014.

It alleged they were improperly charged hundreds of dollars in recruitment fees and forced to pay excessive housing and transportation costs that pushed their wages below the required minimum. The federal government requires employers to pay guest workers a “prevailing wage” that will not have an adverse impact on U.S. workers.

The resort also failed to increase their wages during the 2013 season as required by the Department of Labor. 

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Resort president Roger Warren issued a short statement when the agreement was filed.

“I think the settlement document speaks best about our position on the case,” he said.

The document states, “All parties to the proposed Settlement believe the agreement is a fair, adequate, and reasonable resolution.”

The Post and Courier reported in October that underpaying guest workers is a widespread problem in many segments of the state's $19 billion hospitality industry.

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.