Bank Worker Accused of Human Trafficking

     ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A former World Bank employee forced a woman into involuntary servitude, working her around the clock for next to nothing after luring her away from The Philippines with promises of a living wage, the woman claims in court.
     Cristina Cruz sued former WBO employee Nilda Maypa, her daughter Michelle Barba, and son-in-law Ferdinand Barber, all of Virginia, in Federal Court, accusing them of human trafficking, fraud and forced labor.
     Cruz, say she was 29 when she was brought to the United States to work for Maypa. She claims the family lured her away from The Philippines, where she was the primary provider for elderly parents and her young daughter, who suffers from a life-threatening form of asthma.
     “As the financial burden of supporting her family mounted, Ms. Cruz received a life-changing opportunity,” she says in the lawsuit. “Ms. Maypa contacted Ms. Cruz about a lucrative employment offer to be her domestic helper in the United States – a position that included a substantial hourly wage, six days, at least one day per week off, and travel expenses to visit her family biannually. Ms. Cruz readily accepted the offer.”
     However – as alleged in similar, recent human trafficking lawsuits against WBO employees – Cruz claims her passport was seized as soon as she arrived, and she found herself performing “arduous physical labor” for as little as 50 cents an hour.
     The complaint states: “While subjecting Ms. Cruz to unconscionable living and working conditions, defendants enjoyed a comfortable and luxurious lifestyle. Defendants had large homes on spacious lots, a wine cellar, a pool, and a luxury automobile. They took weekend trips to gamble in Atlantic City – sometimes bringing Ms. Cruz along to care for their children while they spent long nights inside a casino. Defendants also hosted large family events, during which Ms. Cruz was required to work as late as 2:00 a.m. caring for their guests and cleaning afterward.”
     Despite signing a two-year contract that required Maypa to pay her $6.50 an hour and give her one day off a week, two paid sick days a year, medical insurance and one trip to and from the Philippines, Cruz says she was forced to work 18-hour days and expected to be on call during the night to care for as many as six kids.
     She claims she worked seven days a week through illness and holidays, cooking and cleaning, mowing the family’s large lawn and shoveling snow without warm, dry clothes.
     She claims that Maypa forced her to sleep on the living room couch next to which she kept her personal belongings – a few pictures of her family – in a bag.
     She claims that Maypa even sent her to an orientation session hosted by the World Bank, meant to teach newly arrived domestic servants about their legal rights, with Barba’s youngest child, who cried throughout the presentation, forcing Cruz to leave early.
     “During one notable trip to Atlantic City during the midst of winter, Ms. Cruz was left to care for the shivering children outside a casino that did not allow minors while Mr. and Ms. Barba gambled inside for several hours; they did not emerge until after midnight,” according to the complaint.
     Cruz says she was also forced to walk the family’s aggressive dog.
     She claims the family promised her clothing, but provided her with only “two pairs of used pajamas and a sweater.”
     “Ms. Cruz did not have access to the appropriate cold-weather and protective gear for her assigned duties,” the complaint states. “For instance, when Ms. Cruz was required to mow defendants’ yards and provide other landscaping services, she typically wore only pajamas. Similarly, when Ms. Cruz worked outside during the cold winter months – or even in the snow – she lacked warm, dry shoes, and she had to stop working occasionally when her toes became painfully cold.”
     Cruz claims she was isolated to Maypa’s houses, routinely denied medical and dental care, and her rare phone calls home were monitored by the family so she couldn’t tell the story of her life as a virtual slave.
     Cruz says she escaped from the house with the help of a friend in 2008.
     “On a pre-arranged day, when there were no cars in the driveway, a van pulled up to the side of the Barba’s house and gave a signal to Ms. Cruz. She ran from the home,” the complaint states.
     During her six years of servitude, Cruz says, she was paid from 50 to 90 cents an hour. She says she was forced to complete false documents to get her pay, and that the ordeal gave her high blood pressure, back pain, asthma, allergies and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
     She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for human trafficking, breach of contract, fraud and failure to pay legal wages.
     She is represented by Joseph West, with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Washington.
     World Bank employees and members of foreign diplomatic missions are rather frequent defendants in lawsuits like this one.

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