On Wednesday, a federal judge in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit filed against Trump Model Management, ruling that Alexia Palmer, the Jamaican model who brought the putative class-action suit, had provided insufficient evidence that she’d been defrauded or had been denied fair wages.
According to Palmer’s complaint, filed in October 2014, the modeling agency owned and founded by Donald Trump, had promised her $75,000 a year and “a life of glamour in Soho clubs and on catwalks.”
By the conclusion of her three-year contract—during which time she worked on twenty one different projects, exclusively through Trump Model Management—Palmer alleges she was paid just $3,880.75, after the agency withheld nearly 80 percent of her earnings, calling it “expenses.” She sought a quarter-million dollars in back pay.
Further, Palmer accused Trump’s modeling agency of orchestrating a scheme whereby foreign models were lured to the United States with the promise of a H-1B visa. “Such misrepresentation was made solely to evade immigration laws and to perpetrate Defendants’ fraudulent scheme of exploiting non-immigrant workers by grossly underpaying them,” the complaint alleges.
Donald Trump himself, who founded the agency in 1999, was not named in the suit. At one point, Melania Trump (then Melania Knauss) was under contract with Trump Model Management. From the Trump Organization website:
With a name that symbolizes success, the agency has risen to the top of the fashion market, producing models that appear on the pages of magazines such as Vogue, on designer runways, in advertising campaigns and blockbuster movies...Trump Model Management is an expression of exquisite beauty and contemporary style.
The Republican frontrunner’s lawyers called the case “frivolous” and “without merit,” Reuters reports. But U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres’s dismissal had less to do with the relative merits of the case, and more to do with the fact that Palmer didn’t really argue it in the right way. For one thing, she didn’t even say how many hours she worked, which made it impossible to determine what her hourly wage even was.
In any event, the suit was dismissed without prejudice. Palmer’s lawyer, Naresh Gehi, said he plans to file a complaint with the Labor Department—which is what he should have done in the first place. CNN Money reports:
If a complaint was deemed valid by the Labor Department, the agency could require that the modeling agency pay Palmer back wages, along with financial penalties of up to $35,000 per violation. It could also bar the agency from receiving future H-1B visas and even file criminal charges if it is determined that fraud has occurred.
“We are not backing down on this case,” said Gehi. “This is the beginning of a battle.”
If the suit were to move forward as a class action, it would bring further attention to the fact that Trump, who is very adamant about protecting America’s borders and American jobs, has exploited loopholes in labor laws to employ and exploit many foreign workers. In fact, Reuters reported last year, since 2000, Trump-owned business have sought to import more than 1,100 workers from abroad.