Donald Trump’s modeling agency is receiving harsh criticism for the treatment of its models and for many of its practices. One of its former models, Jamaican-born Alexia Palmer, is suing the agency for misleading her about her wages and how much she would work. The modeling program appears to have violated federal laws, improperly handled immigration documents, and shorted its models considerable sums in wages.
Palmer, now 22, joined Trump Model Management at 17 after being spotted in a Jamaica talent search. The agency filed immigration documents for her to obtain a special work visa, an H-1B, which certified that she would work full-time for a wage of $75,00 a year. However, the agency only found Palmer 21 shoots in the three years she worked for the agency. She claims that she received only $3,880 plus cash advances totaling $1,100, and that the agency took extreme amounts out of her wages.
“That’s what slavery people do,” Palmer told ABC News. “You work and you don’t get no money.” She alleges that Trump Model Management took 80 percent of her earnings to cover expenses and fees, and because of the terms of her visa, she could not work anywhere else if she wanted to remain in the United States.
Palmer’s mother signed the contract that specified expenses and fees would be taken from her daughter’s paychecks, which is not unusual in the industry when those expenses are for hair and makeup, but Palmer was surprised to see a $4,000 administrative fee deducted from her earnings in addition to a 20 percent management fee.
CNN Money asked a dozen different attorneys and immigration experts to review Palmer’s case, and they agree that something is wrong. “It seems pretty clear to me that there was a violation, and a pretty egregious violation,” said Jeffrey Feinbloom, a New York immigration attorney. One of the policies of an H-1B visa like Palmer’s is that the immigrant be paid a high enough wage they they’re not being exploited or displacing American workers, despite how many hours they actually work. Palmer’s actual earnings reflect some inconsistency.
Trump’s attorney, Alan Garten, denies any wrongdoing on the part of his client, arguing that Palmer was treated the same as any other model in the industry and that she had made so little because “there wasn’t—unfortunately—a lot of demand for the model.”
There is some discrepancy in the way the industry treats its models and how much it pays them; in many cases, models are more like contractors than employees. Naresh Gehi, Palmer’s attorney, says he believes Trump Model Management has repeatedly abused H-1B visa rules. He expects more models to come forward and join Palmer’s case.