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Nine Years a Slave, Woman Claims in Court

SAN MATEO, Calif. (CN) - A Northern California couple kept a Filipina woman in a windowless shed for nine years and put her to 17-hour days of forced labor, treating her as a "substandard human," she claims in court.

Emma Basubas sued Mark and Valerie De Leon on Nov. 20 in San Mateo County Court. She accuses them of human trafficking, false imprisonment and 10 other causes of action.

She claims they subjected her to involuntary servitude from the moment she entered the United States in April 2005 - that they "knowingly and willfully lured (her) into this country ... under false promises of fair pay" for "a simple housekeeping job."

"Defendants forced plaintiff to work 7 days a week for 9 years," she says in the complaint. Her typical workday began at 6 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m. They stuck her into a storage shed, and "became angry at the cost of electricity for the portable heating device, so they confiscated it and plaintiff had no heating source for many years except for blankets," she says in the complaint. "During cold nights, plaintiff nearly froze and was unable to sleep despite putting on as many layers of clothing and blankets as possible. The shed also lacked a bathroom."

She says she was paid $300 to $600 a week, without a single vacation, and subjected to constant verbal abuse and humiliation. They forbade her from leaving their property at any time, called her "stupid, small and feeble-minded like a child," and threatened her with deportation, Basubas says. They kept her isolated and would not even let her give her address to her friends or family for fear of being reported to authorities; they let her immigration visa expire and held her passport hostage, threatening her with deportation and using constant threats to keep her working under the miserable conditions, according to the complaint.

Because they would not let her off the property, she could not see a doctor, which caused her to suffer hearing loss, nor could she even get a haircut unless she cut it herself, Basubas says.

She says she "escaped" from the De Leons on or about Nov. 28, 2014, "without her possessions, passport, or her last month's wages."

She seeks statutory and punitive damages for human trafficking, wage and labor violations, fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, breach of faith, invasion of privacy, negligence, conversion, and false imprisonment.

She is represented by Robert Thompson of Burlingame.

Neither Thompson nor the De Leons could be reached for comment Monday.

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