Judge rules against polygamous firm in child labor case

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A judge on Monday sided with the U.S. Department of Labor against a company with ties to a polygamous sect on the Utah-Arizona border, finding the company changed its name in a bid to defy an order to stop using child labor.

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer said evidence showed Paragon Contractors Corp. changed its name to Par 2 Contractors and hired underage workers for construction jobs in 2015 and 2016.

Paragon was ordered in 2007 to never employ children. Par 2 used a similar workforce, location, managers and methods as Paragon, Nuffer said.

He ordered the executives who ran Paragon and Par 2 to put $50,000 in a fund to train staff on child labor laws. He said they must send his ruling, which found them in contempt of the 2007 order, to any contractors or companies they've worked with in past decades. They must also pay legal fees to the U.S. Department of Labor, Nuffer said.

Nuffer wrote that the companies' "continued exploitation of child labor for their own competitive advantage" has prevented the Department of Labor from upholding child labor laws.

Jeff Matura, an attorney for Par 2, said the company doesn't agree with the decision but respects the ruling. He said the company is deciding whether to appeal.

Matura argued during a hearing in February that the two companies are separate legal entities with distinct owners.

Rick Sutherland, an attorney representing Paragon and executive Brian Jessop, declined comment. He said he hasn't discussed with his clients whether they will appeal.

The ruling is the latest development in a child labor case that dates to 2007. Paragon was previously ordered to pay $200,000 for back wages to children who picked pecans for long hours in the cold during a 2012 harvest.

Paragon appealed that ruling, but it was upheld by a U.S. appeals court in March.