In 1983, union workers filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, alleging that the businessman had taken advantage of undocumented Polish workers responsible for demolishing the building where Trump Tower now looms.
A confidential settlement was reached in 1998 which prevented the case from going to trial, and the legal details vanished. However, the New York Daily News reported that last week Lewis Steel, an attorney who had worked on the case, notified Manhattan Federal Judge Loretta Preska that a former attorney involved in the case, Wendy Sloan, had found the long lost documents.
“She has the missing transcript and brief,” Steel wrote to Preska. “Ms. Sloan informs me that at all times these documents have remained in her possession and that she kept them confidential. We know of no privacy reason why these documents should not be unsealed.”
The records were thought to have been destroyed due to state document retention policies, but now that they have been discovered, a lower court judge might order them to be made available to the public. The information inside these documents would not only shed light on why this particular case was settled in secrecy before trial, but paint a more complex picture of Trump's immigration policies.
Trump has long denied ever using undocumented workers to build his empire, but this case indicates that this is potentially yet another bold-faced lie. Sen. Marco Rubio used the decades-old lawsuit as a line of attack during a debate in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, stating that Trump "had to pay a million dollars or so in judgement." While the exact amount paid out in the settlement remains unclear, some details of the lawsuit were compiled by Politifact from numerous media sources.
According to Politifact, union workers sued their boss, Trump, and Trump's contractor in 1983, claiming that they had swindled them out of pension and welfare by hiring undocumented Polish workers for inhumanely cheap labor. The Polish immigrants worked exhausting 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, for a measly $4 to $5 hourly wage. When they complained about their risky working conditions, lack of overtime pay, or not being paid at all, Trump allegedly threatened to have them deported.
In court in 1990, Trump testified that he had not been aware that the workers were undocumented and blamed the labor violations on his contractor. However, labor consultant Dan Sullivan testified very differently, stating that Trump had sought out the undocumented workers to exploit and had confided in him about how difficult they were being during the demolition process.
A year later, a judge ruled in the union's favor, citing that Trump had not only known about the undocumented Polish workers, but that his company had used their labor to try and cheat the union workers. Trump appealed the decision and the case dragged on until the settlement was reached almost a decade later.
Last month, the 2nd Circuit United States Court of Appeals overturned an attempt to keep case documents hidden from the public, the judges writing that, "Certain types of documents should be publicly available."
According to Newsweek, Time magazine and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have both been persistent about obtaining the documents due to the many questions they raise.