SEATTLE – Sexual predators confined to Washington’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island should be paid the minimum wage for work they perform there, a new federal lawsuit argues.
A 59-year-old repeat rapist named Gordon Michael Strauss filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma this week, seeking class-action status on behalf of other residents who have worked at the commitment center.
Strauss was convicted in 1987 and has been involuntarily committed since he finished his prison sentence in 1998. He works as a clerical assistant at the center’s library.
His lawyers, including Christopher Carney and Daron Morris of Seattle, argue that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Strauss and other residents employed by the center must be paid minimum wage. They say that while prison inmates don’t have to be paid minimum wage for work they do, the center is a treatment facility – not a prison – and employees of such treatment facilities are explicitly covered by the law.
The center on McNeil Island houses about 280 sexually violent predators who have completed their prison terms but are deemed too dangerous to return to society without treatment. A little more than half – 159 – currently perform work, depending on what level they’ve reached in their treatment, said Thomas Shapley, a spokesman for the Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the center. They are paid $1 to $3 an hour.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, Carney said.