Chinese workers sue Saipan casino over forced labor scheme

FILE - This Sept. 9, 2017 file photo, shows the Imperial Pacific Resort and Hotel under construction in Saipan, the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific. Seven Chinese men allege in a lawsuit that they were victims of a forced labor scheme while constructing a Saipan casino.(Mark Flaherty/The Pacific Daily via AP)
FILE - In this July 26, 2017 photo, Chinese laborers at the Imperial Pacific Casino gather in front of their living quarters before a protest in Saipan, the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific. Seven Chinese men allege in a lawsuit that they were victims of a forced labor scheme while constructing a Saipan casino.(AP Photo/Daniel Lin, File)

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands — Seven Chinese men allege in a lawsuit that they were victims of a forced labor scheme while constructing a Saipan casino.

The casino and its contractors violated U.S. trafficking laws by exploiting the workers, the lawsuit said. Saipan is part of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The lawsuit was filed in December. It was amended Friday to add trafficking claims and to include casino owner Imperial Pacific as a defendant.

Representatives for Hong Kong-based Imperial Pacific and the contractors named in the lawsuit couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, the men were subjected to 12-hour workdays, dormitories without showers or air-conditioning and a dangerous construction site.

"Their supervisors yelled and cursed at them, and forced them to pay fines if they did not work hard enough or arrived late," the lawsuit said. Imperial Pacific knew about, or "recklessly disregarded" the exploitation by their contractors, the lawsuit said: "However, rushing to complete the project, rather than remedy the situation, Imperial Pacific and its contractors sought to conceal their illegal scheme from government authorities, medical providers, and any party that might hold them accountable."

U.S. officials announced $14 million in settlements last year with Chinese construction firms building the casino after finding workers were paid less than required.

"Many foreign migrant workers suffer injuries and endure abuse, but have no access to a remedy," said Aaron Halegua, a New York attorney helping represent the construction workers. "Fortunately, because these events occurred in a U.S. Commonwealth, the plaintiffs are protected under U.S. law."

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