LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former Occidental Petroleum Corp. CEO Ray Irani virtually enslaved three Filipino women they brought to Los Angeles as servants in his palatial mansion, the women claim in a human-trafficking lawsuit.
The women say Irani and his wife Ghada Irani forced them to work “slave-like work hours” while subjecting them to “inhumane” treatment, including “berating them with highly racist and offensive remarks.”
Trinidad de la Cruz, Melanie Belonio and Elena Gabriel sued the Iranis and St. Pierre Personnel Co. on Tuesday in Superior Court. They seek lost wages, damages and punitive damages for 18 charges, including human trafficking, slander, false imprisonment, conversion, harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Ghada Irani seldom allowed the women to leave and threatened them with deportation or being turned over to the Qatar royal family if they tried to escape the heavily guarded mansion, the women say. And Ray Irani kept their passports in his safe.
Ray Irani was chairman and CEO of Occidental Petroleum for nearly three decades until shareholders voted him out in May 2013, for his allegedly excessive compensation. Forbes magazine calls him a billionaire.
Ghada Irani also “is a highly sophisticated employer” who at one time chaired the UNICEF Southern California board, according to the complaint.
The three women “grew up in humble conditions in the Philippines” and moved to the Middle East “to toil as migrant workers” to support their families at home, the lawsuit states.
De la Cruz says she was working as a housekeeper for a relative of Ghada Irani when the Iranis brought her to the United States in 1997.
Belonio and Gabriel say they were servants at the Iranis’ home in Lebanon in 2013 when the Iranis trafficked them to the United States. Unable to get U.S. visas for them, the Iranis arranged for them to get travel documents from Qatar by falsely claiming the women worked for the oil-rich nation’s royal family, the women say. They say Ray Irani has close ties to Qatar royalty.
At the Iranis’ home in Los Angeles, the women say, they worked “under intolerable conditions of servitude” for extremely long hours, six to seven days a week. They cleaned the 17,480-square-foot mansion, cooked, did laundry, gave manicures and massages and prepared the home for large parties.
Another task was “placing shoes on the Iranis’ feet and tying up the laces,” the women say in the complaint.
Initially they were paid $1,200 a month, but they worked such long hours their effective pay rate was $2.85 per hour, the lawsuit states.
The women say Ghada Irani regularly berated and humiliated them, telling them and her guests that all Filipinos are “stealers,” lazy, stupid, mean and foul-smelling.
In one incident described in the 40-page complaint, Gabriel says that when she told Ghada Irani that her passport was due to expire, Irani yelled at her that she did not need it. Then she accused Gabriel and Belonio of breaking into her safe to steal the passport and angrily searched their bedroom. Finding nothing, she forbade them from leaving the bedroom for the rest of the day, according to the lawsuit.
On another occasion, she told Gabriel, “You’re going to live here, you’re going to work here, and you’re going to die here,” the complaint states.
The women say they were subjected to “modern-day slavery.”
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates there have been more than 4,000 cases and about 8,000 victims of labor trafficking in the United States since late 2007. In 2015, there were about 100 cases in California alone, according to the center.
The plaintiffs are represented by C. Joe Sayas Jr. of Glendale. Co-counsel Karl Evangelista declined to comment.
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