Lured Into Indentured Servitude, Woman Says | Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Back issues
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Lured Into Indentured Servitude, Woman Says

(CN) - A Philippines Consulate employee lured a woman to the United States to work for her, then dished her off to people who put her to forced labor for nearly a year and loaned her out to friends, the woman claims in court.

Rosenda Millabangco Gonzaga sued Joy and Chris McCarthy and Linda and Bert Pelayo, in Manhattan Federal Court, alleging human trafficking, forced labor, false imprisonment and other charges.

She claims she was forced to work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, for $1 an hour, under constant threat of being jailed and "deported to the Philippines in handcuffs."

Gonzaga claims: "She was brought to the United States by the defendants, and held in conditions of involuntary servitude and forced labor for nearly 11 months.

"During this period, the defendants held Ms. Gonzaga in confinement. They stripped her of her passport, restricted her communication with people outside the home, and forced her to clean the homes of the defendants and their friends."

Gonzaga claims she was "approached in Manila, Philippines to interview for a position as a domestic worker" in late 2009. She says she then "met with Emma Yulo from the Philippine Consulate in New York, who described to her a two-year position as a housekeeper and caretaker in New York."

She got the job. She claims that the contract, attached to the complaint as an exhibit, "provided, among other things, that (i) Ms. Gonzaga would work in the home of Ms. Yulo, (ii) with a monthly salary of no less than $1,600, (iii) an hourly rate of $9.68, and (iv) would receive overtime for any work beyond 40 hours per week. The contract also guaranteed (v) sick leave, (vi) free repatriation to the Philippines, and (vii) no withholding of passports or other documents by the employer."

Yulo is not a defendant in the complaint.

Gonzaga claims she got an A-3 visa to the United States "and a new passport declaring her a member of the Philippine diplomatic service."

She flew to San Francisco on April 22, 2010, where Yulo met her and flew with her to New York, Gonzaga says. "During the flight from California to New York, Ms. Gonzaga was informed for the first time that she would not be working for Ms. Yulo, but instead for another family," the complaint states.

That family was Joy and Chris McCarthy and their three children and dog, of Orangeburg, N.Y., Gonzaga says.

The complaint then describes "Ms. Gonzaga's Indentured Servitude and Forced Labor in the United States."

"As soon as Ms. Gonzaga arrived, she began work for the McCarthy defendants, including their children ages 4, 8, and 9, and the family dog. She worked approximately 14 hours a day, seven days a week, continuously for the next 11 months. Not once did she get a sick day, despite being sick. Nor did she get a single day off, despite the promises in the Philippine Contract. In total, Ms. Gonzaga worked approximately 310 consecutive days."

She claims her work day lasted from 5:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., unless the McCarthy's had company or went out, in which case she had to work until 11 p.m. or later or stay awake in the children's room until midnight or 1 a.m.

The defendants took her passport, visa and Philippines government identification, Gonzaga says: "Without access to her passport, Ms. Gonzaga was entirely at the mercy of the McCarthy defendants."

The complaint adds: "On top of her duties for the McCarthy defendants, Ms. Gonzaga was required to clean the home of the Pelayo defendants. The McCarthy defendants shuttled her between Orangeburg and Queens - where the Pelayo defendants lived at the time - never allowing her to travel alone. Cleaning the Pelayo defendants' home was typically a two-day job. The Pelayo defendants would pay Ms. Gonzaga approximately $20 for the two days of work.

"The McCarthy defendants also loaned out Ms. Gonzaga to friends and associates, including Ms. Yulo, and required her to clean and serve as demanded."

She claims the defendants used threats, coercion and isolation to put her to forced labor.

"Defendant Linda Pelayo threatened Ms. Gonzaga to secure her indentured servitude and forced labor, telling her that if she ran away from the McCarthy defendants' home, she would be caught by the police, jailed immediately, and then she would be deported to the Philippines in handcuffs," the complaint states. "Other times, defendant Linda Pelayo told Ms. Gonzaga that if anyone asked how she got to the Untied States, she must keep quiet and not say anything. Defendant Linda McCarthy threatened Ms. Gonzaga by warning her that if she spoke to anyone about her salary, this would cause 'trouble.'"

Gonzaga says she was not allowed to leave the McCarthys' home alone or speak with her own family or other people outside of the house. She says her indentured servitude caused her physical and emotional suffering.

"She had come to the United States to support her children, but because she was underpaid, she was barely able to send them as much money as she had made in the Philippines," according to the complaint. "She would cry to herself as she cleaned the McCarthy defendants' home, and would sob alone in her basement room. When the McCarthy defendants loaned out Ms. Gonzaga to other people, she felt humiliated, and she felt that she was being treated like she was the McCarthy defendants' personal property. These emotions were compounded by the feeling that she was trapped in the McCarthy defendants' custody."

Gonzaga says she "escaped" from servitude while the McCarthys were out of the house. She took a bus across the country to California, where she met a cousin.

She claims the McCarthys paid her $400 a month for at least 400 hours of labor.

She seeks damages and punitive damages for involuntary servitude, forced labor, human trafficking, false imprisonment, trafficking into servitude, conversion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wage and labor code violations.

She is represented by Carletta Higginson with Jenner & Block.

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