May 22, 2013
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Man allowed to bring claim of slavery to trial against State of Vermont
NEW YORK (Reuters) — A man who claimed he was forced to do manual labor while detained pending trial can proceed with claims against the State of Vermont under the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.
In an opinion on Friday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a lower court wrongly denied Finbar McGarry a chance to argue that he was forced, against his will and under threat, to work in a prison laundry.
McGarry was a Ph.D. student in chemistry at the University of Vermont at the time of his arrest in December 2008. Denied bail, he was jailed at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, Vt., pending trial on charges relating to a domestic disturbance.
For six weeks, McGarry said he was forced to work three days a week for up to 14 hours at a time washing other inmates' laundry at a pay of 25 cents an hour. The work was hot, unsanitary and resulted in his getting an infection in his neck, McGarry said. If he refused to work, McGarry said prison officials threatened to send him to “the hole,” where inmates were confined for 23 hours a day.
McGarry was released in June 2009 and charges were dropped.
A month before his release, McGarry sued the State of Vermont and a slew of prison officials on a variety of grounds, including that his 13th Amendment right to be free from involuntary servitude was violated.
His lawsuit, which he filed himself, asked for $11 million in damages.
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