Justice for Julieta: End Wage Theft Against Migrant Workers

On October 7th, 2015, Julieta Yang, a Filipina migrant worker employed as a live-in domestic worker filed a complaint in the San Francisco Superior Court against her former employers, tech executives Cameron Poetzscher and Varsha Rao. ALC is co-counseling the case with the Women's Employment Rights Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law. Ms. Yang is also supported by Migrante, a Filipino migrant worker advocacy group.

The complaint alleges that the defendants, who are executives at Uber and Airbnb, failed to pay Ms. Yang the required minimum wage and overtime for all hours worked and failed to provide the required off-duty breaks. It also alleges that they created and maintained a sexually hostile work and home environment and failed to prevent harassment in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

"For many years, I helped raise their children, cooked for them, did their laundry, cleaned their house, and was at their beck and call," said Ms. Yang. Despite the long hours she worked, the couple paid Ms. Yang a flat rate that compensated for only five hours of work a day. When his wife and kids were not home, Poetzscher sexually harassed Ms. Yang including but not limited to nudity, comments of a sexual nature, unwanted sexual advances, and unwanted touching.  "I'm not alone," said Ms. Yang. "I want other migrant domestic workers to know that they don't have to work under conditions like this either."  

More than 6,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines every day in search of a livelihood abroad. In 2014, migrant workers remitted $24.3 billion back to the Philippines and its economy. Despite this, the Philippine government fails to allocate sufficient funds or provide much needed legal and basic services to assure the protection of Filipino migrant workers.  A majority of the migrant workers who leave the Philippines are women, many of whom end up employed as domestic workers.

According to American Community Survey (ACS 2004-2009), 46% of an estimated 2.5 million domestic workers in the United States are foreign-born. In a 2013 California report issued by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, 61% of domestic workers surveyed were paid an hourly wage at their primary job that was below the level needed to adequately support a family (using a conservative measure of income adequacy). 25% of the domestic workers reported that they were paid below the California minimum wage. Sexual harassment of domestic workers is also a problem. Worker advocates believe that the sexual harassment of domestic workers remains severely underreported.

For many domestic workers, who work isolated behind closed doors, their vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that where they work is also where they live. There is fear that coming forward will jeopardize both. We want workers to know that community and legal organizations can help. Julieta and other live-in domestic workers like her are entitled to the minimum wage and overtime for the hours they work, and to a work and home environment free of sexual harassment. 

News story from Asian Americans Advancing Justice Asian Law Caucus, Winnie Kao, Litigation Director, Senior Staff Attorney, Workers' Rights Program.