CHICAGO – In 2009, former beauty queen-turned-Philippine Tourism Director Emma Ruth Yulo-Kitiyakara felt she “needed help in caring for her husband, who had a worsening Parkinson’s condition and in packing their belongings in anticipation of her retirement in June 2011.”
[box type=”default” size=”large”] Ex-beauty queen Emma Ruth Yulo sued by housekeeper [/box]She decided to hire a housekeeper-caregiver for two years at her Manhattan (New York) apartment. She recruited the househelp in Manila.
The problem was that Yulo had other plans for Ms. Rosenda Millabangco Gonzaga of Sta. Ana, Manila whom the former fetched at San Francisco International Airport on April 22, 2010.
She could not explain in court filings pending before Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the United States District Court in Southern District of New York why during the flight from California to New York, she would inform “for the first time Gonzaga that she would not be working for her but for another family.”
Gonzaga’s new family turned out to be that of Joy McCarthy and her husband Chris McCarthy, daughter and son-in-law, respectively, of New York’s Filipino Reporter community publisher-editor Bert Pelayo and his wife, Linda Pelayo.
Three weeks into her employment as housekeeper-caregiver of the McCarthy family at Orangeburg, New York, Linda Pelayo told Gonzaga she “would not earn $1,600 salary (as) stipulated in her contract (with ulo). She would be paid instead of $500 a month, $100 to be withheld to cover (Ms. Gonzaga’s) debts (cash advances from Yulo) in the Philippines,” court records showed.
Instead of earning $9.68 per hour as mentioned in her contract, Gonzaga would be earning $1 per hour if she were paid $400 a month.
The contract prepared by Yulo was both signed by Yulo and Gonzaga in Manila on Feb. 16, 2010. It spelled out Gonzaga’s duties as employee of Yulo such as “dusting furniture and cleaning the apartment, machine washing clothes, sheets and towels, cooking, washing of dishes and various other tasks related to household work.”
The contract was presented to the US Embassy in Manila by Gonzaga. It was the basis for the issuance of a diplomatic visa and A 3 employment visa to her.
According to a 15-count claim for relief Gonzaga, the McCarthys, Pelayos and Yulo separately and/or collectively violated the TVPRA (Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008) for involuntary servitude, forced labor, trafficking into servitude, unlawful conduct with respect to documents, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Law for minimum wage, unpaid overtime, “spread-of-hours” pay, conversion for taking away her official diplomatic passport and A-3 visa without authorization and exclusion of plaintiff’s ownership rights in the property. They also caused intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, quantum merit and unjust enrichment.
It was claimed that Gonzaga was a victim of human trafficking, held in conditions of involuntary servitude and forced labor for nearly 11 months.
Gonzaga, in a complaint filed on her behalf by Carletta F. Higginson, Andrew J. Thomas and Daniel D. Welsh of Jenner & Block in New York and Los Angeles, California, respectively, said she is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, including attorney’s fees, against the defendants, who “confined her, stripped her of her passport, restricted communication with people outside the home and forced her to clean the homes of the defendants and their friends” under threats of being handcuffed and deported to the Philippines if she disobeyed their orders.
Gonzaga worked at McCarthys as caregivers to their three children, 4, 8 and 9 years old, and the family dog, for approximately 14 hours a day, seven days a week, continuously for 11 months. She did not get a sick day, despite being sick nor a day-off.
A typical day for her started at 5:30 a.m. She would wake up McCarthys’ children and prepare them for school, cook and serve breakfast for the whole family. When children were gone, she would clean the whole house. Twice a month, she would clean house windows from the outside by climbing a tall ladder to reach the second floor, which terrified her because she had no help. Her only free time was going to shower and ate before the children returned from school.
When children returned, she was to supervise completion of their homework, cooked dinner for the family and did other tasks and served dinner at around 8 p.m.
After the family finished eating, Gonzaga had to clear the table, put the food away and clean the kitchen and prepare the children for bed. This would be the only time she would quickly eat her dinner. In her answer to counterclaim and cross-claim, Yulo’s lawyer Leo L. Rosales denied any wrongdoing of his client and “demands judgment in her favor on her counterclaim and cross-claim.”