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The U.S. Department of Labor on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the man running its day-to-day operations, Lyle Jeffs.
The lawsuit is the latest fallout from a 2012 pecan harvest.
In May, the Labor Department announced fines totaling almost $2 million against the FLDS, Jeffs, a company called Paragon Contractors Corp., and that company's officers. It was unclear Tuesday whether the Labor Department had collected.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order the defendants to provide the unpaid wages to the women and children from the FLDS who collected the pecans. The Labor Department also wants a judge to issue an order barring the FLDS from similar practices in the future.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Salt Lake City, does not list Paragon as a defendant, though a footnote says the Labor Department plans to file a separate complaint against it.
The lawsuit accuses Paragon of acting at the instruction of the FLDS Church. It lists the church and Jeffs as defendants, as well as a man named Dale Barlow, described in the complaint as an employee of both the church and Paragon. The complaint alleges Barlow supervised the work at the pecan ranch.
In December 2012, a CNN video showed hundreds of women and girls in prairie dresses and some young boys gathering nuts at the pecan ranch. The Labor Department immediately launched an investigation and obtained a voicemail from the bishop's office and sent to FLDS loyalists that instructed them to close the schools for the pecan harvest. One Paragon employee who testified in a deposition said the check his company received from the ranch was deposited in a church account.
The Labor Department investigation became litigious. Citing religious freedom, Jeffs, the brother of imprisoned FLDS President Warren Jeffs, and other figures in the church and Paragon refused to answer subpoenas and questions about the harvest or their roles in the church and the business.
A federal judge sided with the men on some points and limited the government's questions. That ruling, written in September of last year by Judge David Sam, made national headlines because it cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. But the Labor Department felt it still had enough evidence to move forward.
Representatives of the Labor Department were unavailable for comment late Tuesday. The FLDS Church has no designated spokesperson. Lyle Jeffs has fired a previous attorney, and it was unclear Tuesday who represented him.