Court Winnows Kenyan’s Claims Against Employer

     RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A Kenyan woman forced to work under inhumane conditions in the U.S. is entitled to some relief, but can’t pursue human-trafficking claims against her employer, a federal judge ruled.
     Winfred Muchira said in a lawsuit filed in the Alexandria Federal Court that she signed an employment contract to work for the Al-Rawaf family in the U.S. while employed with the family in Saudi Arabia.
     The contract terms stipulated Muchira would earn $1,600 per month while working 40-hour weeks performing housekeeping and nanny services.
     But before they entered the U.S., Al-Rawaf informed her that her pay would only be $400 per month, Muchira claims.
     She received her visa from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh under the guise of her original contract terms, Muchira alleged, “because she wanted to accompany the Defendants to the United States.”
     As recounted in U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga’s opinion, Muchira claimed she was initially given her own private apartment, but later moved into a basement bedroom in the Al-Rawaf family’s rented home.
     Under the “house rules” established by the Al-Rawafs, Muchira was not allowed to leave the family’s home or speak to neighbors without permission, the opinion says.
     Muchira claimed throughout her employment in the U.S., the family maintained control of her passport and visa, and effectively kept her prisoner by installing a home security system, but not giving her the code.
     Muchira claimed she often worked 15-hour days, seven days a week.
     After the Al-Rawafs exhausted their visas, Muchira says she told them she did not wish to return to Saudi Arabia, and with the help of a friend, contacted the Polaris Project, an task force organization that assists victims of human trafficking.
     Muchira was given a temporary visa to remain in the U.S. pending the outcome of her suit against the Al-Rawaf family, the opinion says.
     “Overall, her testimony, construed as a whole and most favorably to Plaintiff, establishes that she worked long hours and was subject to Defendants’ demands that she perform various duties throughout the day until Defendants went to sleep,” Judge Trenga wrote.
     But he went on to dismiss nine of Muchira’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act claims against the Al-Rawafs, while allowing her to continue to press claims of unjust enrichment, conspiracy and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act against the family.
     The TVPA, which was introduced in 2000 to “provide the tools to combat trafficking in persons both worldwide and domestically,” according to the U.S. Department of State, prohibits traffickers from holding a person against their will.
     “In short, there is no evidence sufficient to establish that she had been sold into slavery or ‘held to’ involuntary servitude in Saudi Arabia by the defendants when she was brought to the United States or that her agreement to work for Defendants in the United States as a housemaid was “involuntary” for the purposes of the TVPA,” Trenga wrote.

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