Domestic Worker Confronts, Settles Labor Claims Against Long Island Couple

December 13, 2012 - A Caribbean immigrant of South Asian descent, "Sarah," represented by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), recently reached a settlement with her former employers, a Long Island couple who paid her as little as $2 dollars an hour to work as a live-in housekeeper and nanny for a minimum of 16 hours a day.

"Sarah is an incredibly strong and courageous person," said her attorney, Shirley Lin. "Domestic workers often work alone, but they have strength in numbers. We hope that her story will encourage other workers to stand up for what is right."

Sarah's employers, a middle-class Long Island couple, offered to pay her "two dollars an hour," or about $200 a week for nearly 100 hours' work. Not knowing the agreement violated labor law, Sarah cared for the couple's two young children and worked at least 16 hours a day, six days a week, often waiting on visiting relatives. Her employers took further advantage of her, paying her even less than what she had been promised. Despite repeated appeals for some pay, she received on average only $200 a month.

Sarah also suffered mistreatment in their employment. One day, she received burns from boiling water, but the wife refused to take her to the hospital. When Sarah left, her employers refused to pay her any even the balance of the illegally low wages they had promised her.

Sarah contacted AALDEF after hearing of its advocacy on behalf of immigrant workers through a friend. Last summer, she decided to seek her proper pay from her employers. The parties reached settlement and successfully executed the terms of the settlement last month for an undisclosed amount.

"I wanted them to know that I have rights," Sarah said. "That was more important to me than the pay itself."

According to a national study released earlier this month, 67% of live-in domestic workers earned less than minimum wage, and many suffer abuse out of fear of employer retaliation. Domestic workers widely reported disrespect and abuse by employers, but 91% of those who encountered problems with their working conditions in the prior 12 months did not complain because they were afraid they would lose their job. According to a 2010 report by Domestic Workers United, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 domestic workers are employed throughout New York State.

"Domestic workers are entrusted with fundamentally important responsibilities in our society," said Lin. "Respect, dignified pay, and better legal protections for domestic workers -- many of whom are immigrants -- are integral to that work."