CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WATE) — A case that’s been ongoing since 2018 has finally been resolved today.
On Monday, a federal judge approved a final settlement in a class action lawsuit challenging an April 2018 workplace immigration raid at a meat processing plant in East Tennessee.
About five years ago, the southeastern provisions slaughterhouse and meat packing facility in Grainger County was raided by the IRS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The owner of the facility James Brantley was accused of financial crimes including tax fraud.
However, during the raid, nearly 100 Latino workers were forcefully detained without agents knowing their immigration status.
The lawsuit alleged that federal officers “berated workers with racial slurs,” “punched one worker in the face,” and “subjected the group to prolonged detention without allowing the people to contact family.”
At the time, the ICE raid was the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade.
Brantley, the plant’s owner, was eventually sentenced to 18 months in prison and paid nearly $1.3 million in restitution to the IRS after pleading guilty to tax evasion, wire fraud, and employing undocumented immigrants.
Brantley paid workers $610,000 in back pay and damages to about 150 workers.
State regulators fined Brantley over $40,000 for subjecting workers to unsanitary and hazardous working conditions in the facility.
On Feb. 27, a federal judge closed this case by approving the federal funds of over a million dollars to be distributed to the victims.
$475,000 will be split between six individual plaintiffs. An additional $550,000 will go to a class settlement fund for 97 workers detained during the raid and $150,000 will be paid to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition has been heading the efforts and says this is a historic settlement.
“It’s been tremendous trauma, and really difficult for a lot of the workers in their family some who have died before they get to see this day, and we know that that pain will never heal, but at the same time, the bravery and the tenacity of the workers have really come out through all of this, and that’s the only reason why today we’re expecting a victory in their case,” said Lisa Sherman Luna, executive director of TIRRC.
“Someone asked me if I am happy about the result of this case,” said Martha Pulido, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and resident of Morristown. “The question brought me back to that day. Everything was normal, and then in an instant, everything changed. Now, I live with the aftermath of that bad experience. It will stay with all of the families forever. I am not happy, but I am content to see that justice prevailed over injustice. I am thankful to the legal team and the class members, who stuck together throughout this time. We will always remember that we are one.”
The federal judge congratulated both sides on coming to an agreement and made comments to the attorneys of the plaintiffs stating that this is the first time in his career that he has heard of attorneys meeting with all of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit.
“Some of the class members who were here today at today’s hearing I met for the first time in an immigration prison after one of the most traumatizing days of their lives, and their spirits were so broken. It’s hard not to see that as the intended consequence of this really violent, really unnecessary raid, and it’s just been a transformational experience for me, and I think of the Morristown community to stay with them on this journey over the last five years and see them today with their spirits lifted with a feeling like the trauma that was inflicted on them has been acknowledged,” said Julia Solorzano, one of the attorneys.
Luna continued, “April 5, 2018, It was like a bomb went off in East Tennessee. There was the largest worksite raid in almost a decade where over 100 workers were rounded up, arrested, and detained. Some of them were sent out of state. TIRRC was one of the first on the ground, coordinating a response and organizing the families and others in the community and today is the final day and a hearing where we get to declare victory on the injustice that was enacted on those workers on that day.”