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CA Live-in Domestic Worker Charges Wealthy Peninsula Couple with Illegal Employment Practices
Date 08/03/13/23:36

The Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC)

Christina Chung, Esq., LAS – ELC, (415) 864-8848, ext. 235;
Hillary Ronen, Esq., La Raza Centro Legal, (415) 425-9785;
Ingrid Tischer, LAS-ELC, (415) 864-8848, ext. 215;

Live-in Domestic Worker Charges Wealthy Peninsula Couple with Illegal
Employment Practices

Domestic workers march on mansion-lined streets to spotlight case and
protest abusive conditions

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA, March 13, 2008) For four long years, Ms. S. worked up
to seven days a week and typically more than 14 hours a day while being
paid sub-minimum-wages, without meal or rest breaks or overtime, as a
live-in domestic worker for a couple in Atherton, an affluent community
south of San Francisco. The couple paid her to maintain their home,
recently priced at $17.9 million, and entrusted her with the care of their
young child. Frequently subjected to verbal abuse, her ordeal was capped
the morning her employer found a few chicken bones in an otherwise empty
trashcan, and summarily fired her on the spot. Today, Ms. S. filed a
federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California that seeks wages,
damages, and penalties from her former employers in excess of $120,000.
The suit was brought on Ms. S.’s behalf by the Legal Aid Society -
Employment Law Center (LAS - ELC) and La Raza Centro Legal. To support her
case and bring attention to the frequent abusive treatment of domestic
workers, community organizers and workers’ rights groups planned a protest
march today through the streets of Atherton.

“Ms. S. is not only bringing suit because she was cheated out of her
hard-earned wages, but also to bring attention to the estimated 1.5
million domestic workers in this country who are indispensable to the
lives of many American families and yet are often subjected to appalling
working conditions,” said Christina Chung, staff attorney at the LAS -
ELC. “She wants other domestic workers to know they are not alone -- that
they can stand up and fight for their rights and demand to be treated with
dignity and respect.”

Ms. S.’s lawsuit charges that her employers violated the law by denying
her minimum, overtime, and double time wages, and by failing to provide
meal and rest breaks and to keep accurate payroll records. Ms. S.
typically worked 13 out of every 14 days, an average of 87.5 hours per
week. Despite her long hours, Ms. S. was paid a fixed monthly salary
ranging from $1,000 to $1,300, regardless of how many hours she had
worked. This translated into hourly rates of less than $3.00 and $4.00 per
hour – well below the California minimum wage of $6.75 per hour – with no
overtime. Her employer also regularly subjected her to verbal abuse.

The vast majority of Ms. S.’s work hours involved a heavy schedule of
cleaning her employer’s sprawling estate, assisting in meal preparation,
and serving the couple and their frequent houseguests. Though most of her
work hours were devoted to demanding housekeeping duties, Ms. S. also
cared for the couple’s young child.

“I worked very hard for the family, and cared for their daughter like she
was my own,” said Ms. S. “I do not want revenge. I simply want justice.
And I do not want anyone else to go through what I did.”

Like many domestic workers, Ms. S.’s situation was exacerbated by her
isolation and lack of knowledge of her legal rights. Her access to outside
help was further hampered by her extremely long working hours in the
couple’s home.

The “behind closed doors” nature of domestic employment, where 9% of
workers reported being assaulted on the job, frequently gives rise to
employer abuses. In a 2007 report* on Bay Area domestic workers, 90% of
respondents reported they worked overtime although they did not receive
overtime pay, 83% did not receive paid work breaks, and 20% reported being
insulted or threatened within the previous two months. Most employers have
little difficulty escaping the scrutiny of labor law enforcement agencies.

“Ms. S.’s case is typical of abuse happening in wealthy neighborhoods
across the country,” said co-counsel Hillary Ronen, Coordinator of the
Worker’s Advocacy Project at La Raza Centro Legal. “However, domestic
workers are organizing, learning about their rights, creating
organizations, supporting one another, and fighting back. In fact, last
year the National Domestic Worker Alliance formed to improve conditions in
the domestic worker industry throughout the country.”

Today’s neighborhood march in Atherton in support of domestic workers and
Ms. S.’s case has been organized by the Women's Collective of La Raza
Centro Legal, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, People Organized to Win Employment
Rights, and Filipinos for Affirmative Action.

*“Behind Closed Doors: Working Conditions of California Household Workers”
(March 2007) may be accessed at For more
information about the rights and organizing of domestic workers, contact
Jill Shenker, Coordinator of the Women’s Collective of La Raza Centro
Legal, (415) 225-5685 or

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