Nwauzor v. The GEO Grp., Inc. (Majority)Annotate this Case
The Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that detained workers at a privately owned and operated immigration detention center are considered "employees" under Washington's Minimum Wage Act (MWA), and are thus entitled to receive the state's minimum wage for their work. The court rejected arguments from the detention center operator, The GEO Group, that the detained workers should be exempt from the MWA because they resided and slept at their place of employment. The court also disagreed with GEO's claim that the MWA's government-institutions exemption applied to the detainees because the facility was operated under contract with the federal government. The court found the government-institutions exemption only applies to detainees in public, government-run institutions, and not in privately owned and operated facilities. Finally, the court ruled that a damages award to one party (a class of detainees) does not prevent another party (the State of Washington) from seeking equitable relief in the form of an unjust enrichment award. The case stemmed from lawsuits brought by the State and a class of detainees alleging that GEO's practice of paying detainees less than Washington's minimum wage violated the MWA. After a lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, GEO appealed, leading to the certification of questions to the Washington Supreme Court.