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A southern Minnesota meat-processing facility is illegally employing as many as eight teenagers in violation of state labor laws, according to a court filing in Watonwan County.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry filed a request on Wednesday for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Mankato-based Tony Downs Food Co., alleging the packaged meat company's facility in Madelia has been employing teenagers to work overnight shifts involving meat grinders and toxic chemicals.

The filing, which comes after a January search of the Madelia facility, claims the company, which processes meat and poultry, as recently as Feb. 8 employed workers between the ages of 14 and 17. The government says the company hired one employee when the minor was only 13 years old.

"[The Department of Labor and Industry's] allegations about child labor at this site are appalling," Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement. "I applaud their investigation and am proud to represent them in bring this action in court."

The company told the Star Tribune on Wednesday evening that they were "familiarizing" themselves with the Labor Department's filing.

"Our intent is always to comply with the law and, based on what we learn, we will take any actions that are necessary to ensure that we do so," said David Ross, the company's vice president of human resources.

Ross suggested that employees may have circumvented their hiring process by providing false identification documents showing the workers as at least 18 years old.

According to the court filing, state labor regulators searched the Madelia facility the night of Jan. 26 and into the early morning hours of Jan. 27, following a tip that minors were working the overnight shift. Some of the employees interviewed acknowledged needing to go to high school in the morning.

Under the Minnesota Child Labor Standards Act, minors are not allowed to work occupations deemed hazardous, which includes most employment at meat-processing facilities. State law also prohibits minors under the age of 16 from working after 9 p.m. During the investigation, state investigators observed "young" employees working after 11 p.m., according to the court document.

After a subpoena of records from a local school district, regulators said they determined as many as eight children were employed by Tony Downs. A further review of the company's injury log revealed one of the employed minors was injured while on the job.

The court document further alleges the violations are continuing.

"DLI was also informed that Tony Downs was aware of the issue," said the court filing, which lists Nicole Blissenbach, commissioner of the MDLI, as plaintiff.

The government has asked for the district judge to stop Tony Downs from employing minors, alleging multiple violations of state labor law.

The allegations follow a federal investigation this fall by the U.S. Labor Department's Wage and Hour division that turned up dozens of minors employed illegally at Minnesota slaughterhouses.