After years of litigation over the treatment of Polish workers in the Bonwit Teller demolition project, a settlement was finally paid in 1998. The outcome of the case, and settlement details were never revealed at the time. However, settlement documents have finally been leaked by Loretta A. Preska, a United States District Court judge for the Southern District in response to a 2016 motion filed by Time Inc. and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The judge ruled that the public have the right to know of the proceedings, and wrote in the document that “The Trump Parties have failed to identify any interests that can overcome the common law and First Amendment presumptions of access to the four documents at issue.”
Katie Townsend, litigation director of the Reporters Committee, called the decision a major victory, saying that “It makes clear that both the First Amendment and common law rights of public access apply to settlement-related documents in class actions.”
Lawyers for Donald trump have yet to comment on the documents, which reveal that a $1.375 million was paid out in settlement. A total of $500,000 was paid to a union benefits fund and the remaining money was used to pay lawyers’ fees and expenses. According to the documents, union lawyers asked the judge to ensure payment “within two weeks after the settlement date.”
Trump testified in the case that he wasn’t aware of the undocumented Polish workers, and they were employed by contractor William Kaszycki of Kaszycki & Sons, for $775,000. However, a foreman on the job, Zbignew Goryn, testified that Mr. Trump visited the site and knew about the workers. The court papers note that, “this case has been litigated for 15 years and has already required three rounds of discovery, extensive motion practice, a 16-day trial and two appeals.”
In 1998, Polish worker Wojciech Kozak described the conditions of the job, saying that “We worked in horrid, terrible conditions. We were frightened illegal immigrants and did not know enough about our rights. We were working, 12, 16 hours a day and were paid $4 an hour. Because I worked with an acetylene torch, I got $5 an hour. We worked without masks. Nobody knew what asbestos was. I was an immigrant. I worked very hard.”
When the workers stopped being paid, they eventually took their complaints to lawyer John Szabo, who took legal action against the Trump Organization. Mr. Trump, however, testified that he “did he not remember” that there were undocumented Polish workers on the job, and couldn’t remember signing their paychecks, saying in court that “I really still don’t know that there were illegal aliens.”
A judge ruled that Mr. Trump was a legal employer of the Poles, although both sides still disputed elements of the decision, with Trump appealing for the welfare funds to be reduced. On the eve of a second trial, Mr. Trump settled the case.