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The Minnesota Attorney General's Office on Monday sued Evergreen Acres Dairy in Stearns County, alleging it failed to pay workers $3 million in wages, threatened them and confined them to squalid employee housing.

The size of the theft is one of the largest Minnesota has dealt with in such a case, Attorney General Keith Ellison said during a news conference Monday morning.

The large dairy farm in central Minnesota also refused to pay workers back wages when several were abruptly fired and evicted with no warning, according to the complaint filed in the Stearns County District Court. Investigators alleged there was an indication of a significant cover-up with destroyed documents.

The civil lawsuit is seeking more than $3 million for violations involving dozens of workers, most of them immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, who allegedly were robbed of up to a quarter of their wages each pay period.

The lawsuit named Evergreen Acres Dairy in Paynesville, Evergreen Estates, Morgan Feedlots Inc., dairy owner Keith Schaefer, and his daughter Megan Hill.

Attempts to reach Schaefer, Hill and others at the dairy were unsuccessful. Several phone lines associated with the company are disconnected.

Ellison said at a news conference the dairy workers repeatedly were threatened and faced violence for either complaining or for being injured on the job.

Ellison and Johnathan Moler, who heads the office's wage theft unit, said the state began hearing about labor abuses in March 2023 when community activists notified it that Evergreen Dairy workers were not being paid for long stretches of work and had fees illegally deducted from paychecks.

When the investigations began, workers started to come forward. The theft involved systematic underpayment, destruction of payroll documents and falsifying of pay stubs and other records, Ellison said.

Investigators found the employer's substandard housing conditions in November, Moler said. Evergreen's dairy operations sit about 35 miles west and south of St. Cloud, a region where accessible and affordable housing options are hard to come by, state officials said.

The housing was uninhabitable, Ellison said. Photos shown during the news conference showed mold on walls and ceilings, and mildewed showers. No heat or windows were available, Ellison said.

Ellison said his goal was to stop Evergreen's "unlawful failure to pay its employees all the wages they have earned, to stop its violations of Minnesota's housing habitability standards and tenant protections and to fully remediate the harm its unlawful practices have caused to its employees."

Monday's lawsuit is one of several state actions to protect against wage theft that has been undertaken in recent months. Minnesota legislators, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, the Attorney General's Office and city labor enforcement officials in Minneapolis recently tightened laws, hired extra investigators and pledged greater vigilance in protecting workers against wage and benefit theft.