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Brownsville Herald

Civil rights group files new lawsuit against ORC

December 28, 2006 - The South Texas Civil Rights Project filed its second lawsuit against ORC Industries Inc. earlier this month, alleging the Brownsville nonprofit fired one of its employees after she was injured on the job, an act that would violate Texas labor laws.

The employee's doctor faxed ORC a statement that read, in part, Bertha Fraire's injury "prevented and still prevents the employee from returning to work," according to court documents.

ORC fired Fraire for job abandonment and tried to deny her unemployment benefits. However, after hearing her case, the Texas Employment Commission sided with Fraire, telling ORC that she was entitled to receive the benefits, according to court records.

ORC spokesman Rob Geist said the nonprofit "will not comment on pending or threatened legal actions nor on the specifics of any individual case."

He added: "ORC Industries has strived to carefully follow the laws and regulations that govern employment and operations at our facilities in the past and will continue to do so in the future."

Abner Burnett, the director of the South Texas Civil Rights Project, says he intends to prove that Fraire was wrongfully terminated.

ORC employs disabled individuals to manufacture garments primarily for the Defense Department. It is permitted to pay some of these employees less than minimum wage by the Labor Department. That fact has caused community activists like the Rev. Armand Mathew to criticize the organization's Chief Executive Officer Barbara Barnard, who earned more than $1 million in salary and benefits last year.

Fraire's case will be heard in the 197th state District Court.

The South Texas Civil Rights Project also has another case pending against ORC in federal court.

That suit alleges fraud and other violations of labor law against another former employee, Cesar Arizmendi.

A Brownsville Herald reporter tried to get comments from ORC management at the nonprofit's office when that lawsuit was filed, but was escorted off the premises by security.

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