Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Rappler: Trafficked OFWs in California win $15M in damages

Monday, June 13, 2016

MANILA, Philippines – A California District Court recently granted 11 trafficked overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) a default judgement of $15.2 million (P700 million) in damages and fees.

The workers were trafficked to the United States to serve as domestic servants and kitchen staff to high-end bakeries owned by defendants Analiza and Goncalo Moitinho de Almeida. They were subjected to abusive conditions, including 17-hour workdays and $3 (P138.23) per-hour wages.

The OFWs were also verbally abused, referred to as "dogs," and were each imposed $11,000 (P506,825) in debt. The Almeidas also threatened to cancel the workers' visa and harm them and their families back home.

"Because of this judgment, all the heartache and suffering we had to endure because of [the Almeidas'] greed has not been for nothing," said Gina Pablo, one of the OFWs.

The workers sued their employers in March 2015 for violating federal and state labor laws, whistleblower laws, and human trafficking violations. They got assistance from the Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA) – a legal and civil rights organization for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders – and the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP.

"It's always an inspiration whenever individuals like the L'Amande workers gather the courage to stand up for their rights," Christopher Lapinig of AAAJ-LA said.

He added: "Unfortunately, time and time again, we see exploitative employers...resort to fraud and other unlawful activity to escape accountability for their labor abuses. With this judgment, we hope to make clear to such employers that they can no longer act with impunity."

Full damages

Accoridng to AAAJ-LA, the Almeidas began liquidating their assets after the lawsuit was filed. They sold their million-dollar residence in Rolling Hills Estates, California, to keep the property and the proceeds of its sale from the OFWs' hands.

The workers then responded by amending their complaint to add fraudulent transfer claims.

The Almeidas fled the US in August 2015 and instructed their lawyers to "take no further action in defending the lawsuit."

In May, however, Judge Ferdinand Olguin of the District Court of California voided the Almeidas' fraudluent transfers and took steps to prevent them from moving their assets.

Olguin also granted all 12 claims and awarded the full amount of damages that the OFWs sought. AAAJ-LA and Latham & Watkins are now taking steps to enforce the judgement.

"We are thrilled that the court has awarded the entirety of the requested relief, especially after the defendants did everything in their power, including breaking the law, to avoid accountability to our clients," Sid Nadkarni, an associate at Latham & Watkins, said.

Immigration status

Because the OFWs are victims of human trafficking, AAAJ-LA has secured special immigration status for them. This gives them work authorization so they can rebuild their lives and reunite with their families.

"I'm so relieved about the judgment. All the stress that we went through is over. All the fears that the Almeidas imposed on us are gone," said Armelinda de la Cerna, one of the OFWs.

She added: "We can now focus on our new jobs and look forward to reuniting with our family soon." 

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