FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 24, 2021
Migrant Domestic Worker Sues her Employers for Labor Trafficking and Wage Violations
(San Diego, California) — Engracia Hernández-García, a domestic worker from Mexico, has filed a lawsuit against her employers, a couple residing in California who employed her for seven years, and two additional people involved in her recruitment. Hernández-García is seeking unpaid wages and damages for injuries inflicted by her employers, whom she alleges knowingly benefited from labor trafficking. Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP (WilmerHale) are representing Ms. Herández-García in the case in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.
Hernández-García was recruited in Mexico and traveled to the United States with a B-1 visa for domestic employees. According to the complaint, she was induced by the Defendants to leave Mexico with false promises regarding the terms and working conditions of her employment in the United States. The complaint further alleges that she was paid at most $400 a week — less than half the minimum wage and without overtime pay – while being required to work between 76 and 90 hours a week, cleaning her employers’ large home, assisting with the cooking, and serving as the primary caretaker for her employers’ children.
“The atmosphere in the household was very stressful,” said Ms. Hernández-García. “No matter how hard I worked, the woman who employed me frequently told me that I was not working hard enough.”
The B-1 visa category allows people from around the world to work as domestic workers in the United States for non-immigrant visa holders as long as the worker had been employed by the same person for at least six months or immediately prior to their admission to the United States. The application for B-1 visa for domestic workers requires an employment contract as proof that the employee will receive minimum or prevailing wage (whichever is higher) and work in conditions in accordance with U.S. law.
The lack of government oversight allows for employers to undermine workers’ rights. According to a survey-based study by CDM, migrant women across visa categories and industries are disproportionately affected by abuse in temporary worker programs. Nearly half of women surveyed were paid below the federal minimum wage at their time of employment, and 43% reported not being paid for overtime hours.
According to the complaint, Hernández-García’s employers socially and physically isolated her. As the complaint alleges, Hernández-García’s employers confiscated her passport and visa, limiting her ability to leave the United States and her workplace, where she was subjected to traumatic working and living conditions. She was only allowed to visit her family in Mexico once a year in order to renew her visa.
Throughout her employment, as alleged in the complaint, Hernández-García was hesitant to report abusive working conditions and low pay given that on several occasions, her employers threatened her with deportation or to report her to law enforcement.
“Now, every time I tell my story, I’m a little less afraid,” said Hernández-García. “Through my lawsuit, I’m taking a stand to say that no matter how wealthy people are, they are not allowed to treat people like I was treated.”
“The pandemic has highlighted that domestic workers are essential workers. Yet, their labor and their rights are regularly undermined by employers,” stated Ben Botts, Legal Director at Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. ”There is a power imbalance embedded in work visa programs where employers restrict workers’ freedom to move, underpay them, and deter them from reporting abuse by threatening them with deportation.”
About Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM)
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM) envisions a world where migrant workers’ rights are respected, and laws and policies reflect their voices. Through education, outreach, and leadership development; intake, evaluation, and referral services; litigation support and direct representation; and policy advocacy; CDM empowers migrant workers to defend and protect their rights as they move between their home communities and their workplaces in the United States. www.cdmigrante.org
WilmerHale provides legal representation across a comprehensive range of practice areas that are critical to the success of its clients. The law firm’s leading Intellectual Property, Litigation/Controversy, Regulatory and Government Affairs, Securities and Financial Services, and Transactional Departments participate in some of the highest-profile legal and policy matters. With a staunch commitment to public service, the firm is renowned as a leader in pro bono representation. WilmerHale is 1,000 lawyers strong with 13 offices in the United States and abroad.