SAINT PAUL – Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit in Stearns District Court against Evergreen Acres Dairy, Evergreen Estates, Morgan Feedlots, and the dairy operations’ owners Keith Schaefer and Megan Hill. The suit alleges Evergreen systematically deprived its vulnerable, low-wage dairy employees of millions of dollars in wages they earned by shaving both regular and overtime hours from workers’ paychecks, not paying wages owed at the beginning and end of workers’ employment, and by unlawfully deducting rent for substandard onsite housing that fails to meet standards of habitability under Minnesota law. In the lawsuit, it’s estimated that Evergreen owes its employees at least $3 million in earned but unpaid wages. 

According to Attorney General Ellison, Evergreen has employed hundreds of people over the last 3 years — who work long and demanding hours under dangerous conditions — at its facilities in Stearns and Redwood counties. Many of them are unauthorized workers from Mexico who speak limited or no English. Attorney General Ellison alleges that Evergreen has exploited the vulnerabilities of its workforce to withhold earned wages from its employees, who work demanding 12-hour shifts at least six days per week. The lawsuit alleges that Evergreen has done so by systematically under reporting the number of hours that employees work on their pay stubs, often shaving off 12 to 32 hours from each two-week pay period and depriving employees of both regular wages and overtime premiums owed. Evergreen has also allegedly failed to pay workers’ wages by refusing to pay employees for time worked at the beginning and end of their employment. Attorney General Ellison further alleges Evergreen attempted to cover up its illegal practices by refusing to document most of its employment practices in writing, which is against the law; failing to provide employees with written information about how they are paid, which is also required by law; falsifying pay stubs; and even destroying the time cards that they are required to keep by law that would show how many hours its employees actually worked.  

Ellison also alleges Evergreen acted as a landlord and made unauthorized deductions from its employees’ paychecks for the substandard housing it leases to them. The suit alleges that Evergreen’s employee housing violates Minnesota’s most basic health and safety standards. According to the suit, some workers live in windowless bedrooms with plywood walls, unfinished electrical sockets, and only space heaters for warmth. Some employees live in housing with no onsite toilet.  Other workers have lived in garages, haphazardly converted barns, and other buildings not fit for human habitation. Most of this rental housing appears to have severe insect infestations, pervasive microbial growth, and other health and safety issues. Click here to view photos of the substandard housing Evergreen provides to employees. 

Ellison alleges Evergreen also violated Minnesota law by subjecting its employee-tenants by conducting unannounced inspections of employee housing, including bedrooms. The lawsuit alleges final paychecks are withheld if an employee is fired or quits and forcefully evicted from their homes without notice. 

Evergreen used fear and intimidation tactics to discourage workers from complaining about their pay and housing through threats of violence and threats to call the police. Attorney General Ellison alleges that in one instance, an employee was injured on the job and unable to work, Evergreen owner Keith Schaefer allegedly grabbed that employee by the neck, pushed them into a wall, and told them that they would be evicted from Evergreen housing in 10 minutes if they did not return to work immediately. Despite these brazen attempts by Evergreen to silence their employees, dozens of workers have come forward to speak out against these employment and housing violations. 

“I want to thank the courageous workers who came forward, despite Evergreen’s threats, to help our Office hold Evergreen accountable for its numerous violations of the law. Without them, this action would not have been possible,” Attorney General Ellison added.