A Peruvian woman who was promised a nanny position with two United Nations employees and who worked 15-hour days, seven days a week for seven years for the equivalent of 50 cents an hour, has filed suit against her former employers for failure to pay minimum wage and overtime and for breach of contract and labor trafficking.
Prudencia Mendoza worked for Juan Carpio and Gina Carpio Malaga in their Rego Park, Queens, New York home caring for their young son, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry.
The employees intentionally and knowingly misrepresented the conditions of the woman’s employment to induce her to move from Peru to the United States, according to the complaint. On several occasions when Ms. Mendoza requested to return to her home country, the defendants used their power over Ms. Mendoza to compel her to continue to work for them.
“As alleged in the complaint, they frightened and coerced her,” said Estelle Davis, a third-year law student at CUNY School of Law in Flushing. Davis and another student, Joanna Donbeck, are representing Mendoza, under faculty supervision, in State Supreme Court in Queens County/Kew Gardens. The case is in the civil division.
The Carpios restricted Ms. Mendoza’s movements by confiscating her keys, and they also retained control of her passport for the majority of her employ.
“I didn’t have any family here. I knew nothing,” Mendoza said in an interview in Spanish with the students. “My life was work. I suffered much for the child. I got sick to my stomach from stress. I didn’t have anyone to reassure me.”
The Carpios are United Nations employees, also from Peru, who are in the United States on G-4 visas for international organization officers or employees and members of their immediate families.
Ms. Mendoza was authorized to travel and work in the United States under a G-5 visa. A G-5 visa is intended for an “attendant, servant, or personal employee” of an international organization official. According to the G-5 contract signed by the Carpios, and the U.N. Secretariat’s rules and regulations regarding G-5 visas, the U.N. requires employees to submit proof of payment of wages signed by the staff member and the visa holder, proof of health insurance, and proof of payment of taxes. It is believed that the Carpios did not submit any of this documentation to the United Nations. The U.N.’s failure to require compliance with its own regulations left Ms. Mendoza vulnerable to this extreme form of exploitation.
In addition, the Carpios had a fiduciary duty to Ms. Mendoza because, instead of paying her directly, they paid her wages into a bank account that was in their name. She was able to withdraw funds, but so were the Carpios. And it appears that they did so on several occasions, according to the complaint. “They treated the funds in the bank account as their own and by withdrawing funds for their own use,” the complaint states.
Labor trafficking is defined in the complaint as the recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving of a person by means of a threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or giving or receiving payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person, for the purpose of exploiting him or her.
This case highlights a growing problem in which U.N. employees and other workers from international organizations, some at very high levels, are violating trafficking and labor laws for personal gain. Indeed, Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world, issued a report in 2001, “Hidden in the Home,” which states that live-in domestic workers “labor in what has traditionally been deemed the private sphere and are largely invisible to and unprotected.”
“This case goes to the heart of how work in the home has historically been underpaid and undervalued but it goes even further in pointing out how foreign workers are particularly vulnerable,” Donbeck said.
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank issued a “Code of Conduct Regarding Employment of G-5 Domestic Employees” in December 1999 to address abuses of G-5 visa holders. The U.N. has yet to address the issue.
Ms. Mendoza is represented by the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at the CUNY School of Law in Flushing, New York. In the third year of their studies, students take on real cases under the supervision of an attorney. Main Street Legal Services Inc., located on the campus of the Law School, has clinics in the areas of battered women’s rights, criminal defense, economic justice, elder law, immigrant and refugee rights, international women’s human rights and mediation.
Labor Trafficking Suit Filed against United Nations Employees:
Law Students Representing Nanny Under Faculty Supervision
*Note to Editors/Reporters: Law Students Available for Interviews
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