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Forced-Labor Suit Follows World Bank Worker

(CN) - A former World Bank employee must face human-trafficking claims from the Filipino woman who allegedly spent years as her virtual slave, the 4th Circuit ruled.

Cristina Fernandez Cruz says she came to the United States from the Philippines in 2002 to work as a housekeeper for Nilda Maypa, an employee of the World Bank.

The employment contract allegedly promised Cruz $6.50 an hour for 35 to 40 hours of work per week. In addition to one full day off each week, Cruz's contract included two sick days per year, subsidized medical insurance, and full reimbursement for travel to and from the Philippines, according to the complaint.

Upon arriving in Virginia, however, Cruz allegedly discovered quickly that the contract greatly misrepresented her actual working conditions.

For the next six years, Cruz worked seven days a week for 17 to 18 hours per day, according to the complaint. She claims to have spent the first year cleaning a four-bedroom home and caring for its eight inhabitants, and says that every year after that she cleaned a second home that Maypa's daughter had bought.

The housekeeper was allegedly expected to remain on call at night, take care of four children, and was never allowed to take a day off even when sick, or leave the house alone.

Instead of $6.50 an hour for her labor, Cruz was paid only $8 per day initially, and just under $15 per day by the end of the six years, according to the complaint.

Cruz says Maypa confiscated her passport as soon as she arrived, and told Cruz that U.S. immigration would imprison and deport her if she tried to leave.

A friend of Cruz's living in the United States allegedly helped her escape in 2008, and Cruz sued her former employer in 2013 under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence protection Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

A federal judge in Alexandria dismissed Cruz's claims as untimely, but the 4th Circuit reversed Monday.

"Cruz has alleged that the defendants confiscated her passport, isolated her from other people, monitored her communications, and threatened that she would be imprisoned and deported if she tried to escape," Judge Roger Gregory wrote for a three-judge panel. "Taking these facts in the light most favorable to Cruz, this virtual imprisonment prevented her from seeking legal redress until at least the date of her escape in January 2008."

Equitable tolling of the 10-year statute of limitations for Cruz's human-trafficking claims is thus available, the panel found.

Cruz's claims under the FLSA may also still be viable because she claims she was never given notice of her rights, such as the Virginia minimum wage, according to the ruling. Employers are required to post this information in the workplace.

"Her FLSA claim may be timely if she received actual notice of her rights within three years of filing this suit," Gregory said.

Cruz's state-law breach-of-contract claims remain untimely, however, as she filed this action more than five years after her escape, the judgment states.

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