Consular Official Accused of Labor Abuses

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A Kenyan consular official made a countrywoman work for her 11 hours a day for six months in Los Angeles at $1 per hour without a day off, the young woman claims in court.
     Aqulina Mwelu George, 24, sued Angela Soila Kasaine, a consular official stationed in Los Angeles, in Federal Court. She claims Kasaine persuaded her to leave Kenya and work as housekeeper in her home, offering her a 40-hour week at $9.27 per hour, with room, board and overtime.
     But when George arrived in L.A., she says, Kasaine took her passport, ATM card, birth certificate, Social Security card and insurance documents, and made her work 11 hours a day, seven days a week, for $300 a month, according to the lawsuit.
     Before her arrival in America, George was paid 7,000 Kenyan shillings, or almost $70 a month, as Kasaine's housekeeper, according to the 26-page lawsuit.
     George says that though Kasaine's first draft of her employment contract was for $8.27 an hour, the diplomat agreed to pay her an extra $1 an hour after the U.S. Embassy rejected the contract at George's work-visa interview.
     Her duties included cooking, cleaning and taking care of Kasaine's young daughter. George says she rested only when the daughter napped or if Kasaine went to church.
     Combined with grueling work weeks, George says, her boss told her that she should never leave the house without permission.
     When George complained about her wages and working conditions, Kasaine told her that since she had room and board, she had nothing to complain about, George says in the complaint.
     It adds: "Ms. George did not know anyone other than defendant in the United States and did not have anyone she could ask for help. Ms. George felt that she had no choice but to continue to work for defendant and accept defendant's employment conditions. The arduous working conditions, coupled with Ms. George's social isolation and total dependence on her employer, caused Ms. George exhaustion, sadness, and mental distress."
     George says the situation boiled over during a weekend in November 2013 when she asked her boss for an afternoon off. Kasaine refused, she says.
     "Ms. George responded that Ms. George knew her rights, at which point defendant became angry, went upstairs, and returned with Ms. George's passport, which she threw at Ms. George. Defendant told Ms. George to gather her belongings and leave defendant's home," the lawsuit states.
     With nowhere to go, George says, she called the U.S. Department of State hotline for help. Los Angeles Police Department officers were dispatched to Kasaine's house and made her give back George's birth certificate and ATM card, George says.
     She claims that Kasaine still has insurance policy papers for George's son and that she had promised to pay George roughly $34 a month into an account for his schooling. George claims that Kasaine never paid any money into the account.
     "After permanently leaving defendant's residence, Ms. George received a phone call from defendant's father in Kenya, where, upon information and belief, he serves as a member of Parliament," the complaint states. "This phone call frightened Ms. George because she believed that defendant's father holds a position of power in the Kenyan government. Defendant's father inquired about Ms. George's whereabouts, and represented that he would pay Ms. George the money she was owed if Ms. George would return to Kenya. Ms. George did not believe that she would get paid the money that she was owed if she returned to Kenya."
     She seeks unpaid wages and damages for failure to pay minimum wage and overtime, solicitation of employee by misrepresentation, breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and negligence per se.
     She is represented by Jennifer Klem with McDermott Will & Emery.