CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT FILED ON BEHALF OF WORKERS TRAFFICKED BY MAJOR NEW JERSEY TEMPLE
Workers Faced Forced Labor and Massive Wage Theft
TRENTON, NJ – Today, workers’ rights attorneys filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Indian workers who were trafficked and faced rampant wage theft and shocking abuses by Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, Inc. (“BAPS”), reportedly the largest Hindu temple in the United States.
In addition to the six named plaintiffs – Mukesh Kumar, Keshav Kumar, Devi Laal, Niranjan, Pappu, Brajendra – the case, Kumar v. Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, Inc., is brought on behalf of approximately 200 other Indian nationals who have worked at the temple. According to the complaint, after being trafficked to the U.S. under false pretenses, the workers’ passports were confiscated, and they were forced to live and work in a fenced, guarded compound. They were not allowed to leave the grounds unaccompanied, and they were under constant monitoring, threats of being fined for infractions, and arrest.
Plaintiffs allege that the trafficked workers were forced to work 12-13 hours a day with only rare days off, performing arduous and sometimes dangerous work for approximately 31,000 – 35,000 rupees (approximately $425 – $450 USD) per month, or less than $1.20 per hour.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey by attorneys Patricia Kakalec of Kakalec Law PLLC, Daniel Werner of Radford & Keebaugh, LLC, and Andrew Glenn of Jaffe Glenn Law Group, P.A., outlines the defendants’ violations of federal and state laws including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and New Jersey wage and hour laws. Besides BAPS, defendants in the case are BAPS Mercer LLC, BAPS Robbinsville LLC., BAPS Fellowship Services, Inc., Bharat Doe a/k/a Bharat Bhai, Pankaj Patel, Kanu Patel, and Swami Prasanand.
“This is a horrific case of worker exploitation and it is even more disturbing that it has gone on for years in New Jersey behind the temple’s walls,” said Werner. “These workers were coerced through lies to come to the United States to work and then suffered tremendously – they were basically forced into servitude.”
The plaintiffs were brought to the United States under R-1 or religious visas, which are available to those who minister or who work in a religious vocation or occupation, but the workers solely performed manual labor.
“These workers came to work in New Jersey to earn wages and help their families,” says Kakalec. “They were taken advantage of and cheated out of millions of dollars in wages. They deserve justice.”
Swati Sawant, an attorney for individuals who worked in the temple, says: “These individuals have suffered greatly – financially as a result of the wage theft, physically as a result of the grueling work they were forced to undertake, and mentally as a result of being forced for stay within the temple compound for months, and for many, years. They are brave for standing up for their rights.”
The lawsuit seeks the workers’ unpaid wages, an award of money for other damages, and a court order preventing the defendants from continuing to violate the law.
The Complaint in this action, Kumar v. Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, Inc. et al., 21-CV-11048 (D. NJ) can be found here: