ACLU Sues Manhattan Hotel Under 'Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act'

May 27, 2004 12:00 am

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Novel Forced Labor Claims Filed on Behalf of Latina Workers


NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today on behalf of five Latinas who worked as housekeepers at the Broadway Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, charging several violations of federal and state labor laws, including a novel charge of forced labor under the little-known federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.

“”Our clients, Latina women who were simply pursuing the American dream by working hard, were compelled to work under conditions of forced labor,”” said Jennifer Arnett, an attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “”By exploiting our clients and countless others like them, unscrupulous employers violate our laws and trample on American values.””

The lawsuit raises a novel claim under a December 2003 amendment to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act that permits victims of forced labor to bring a civil case against their abusers in federal court. In the case of the Broadway Plaza Hotel, the legal complaint brings a civil action against the hotel and its top management in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. If the hotel and the defendants are found liable, the plaintiffs may recover damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

The plaintiffs seeking legal relief and damages include: Juana Sierra Trejo, Gabriela Flores Viegas, Ines Bello Castillo, Carmen Calixto Rodriquez and Lucero Santes Vazquez, all of whom are originally from Mexico. During their employment at the hotel, the women were forced to work seven days per week, for up to 15 continuous hours a day, without breaks. They were denied permission to eat, drink or use the restroom. They were never paid overtime compensation for their work.

Juana Sierra Trejo, 18, who was a minor during most of the time she worked at the Broadway Plaza Hotel, said she was sexually harassed by hotel manager and named defendant, Felix David Buendia Ramirez, on numerous occasions.

“”I was forced, under threat of deportation and physical harm, to clean Mr. Ramirez’s private home without pay in the evenings after work,”” Ms. Sierra said. “”He would also caress me and attempt to touch me in sexual ways, as well as call me names that were personally humiliating.””

It was common practice at the Broadway Plaza Hotel to require some of the housekeepers, after completing their shifts, to clean the homes of the hotel management, sometimes without receiving any compensation.

The women were threatened with deportation and in some cases physical and sexual harm if they refused to continue working, or if they told anybody about the work conditions they endured.

“”The overt sexual harassment at the Broadway Plaza Hotel created a hostile and abusive work environment for these women,”” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “”The actions and conduct by the Broadway Plaza Hotel management were carried out with impunity. Our lawsuit seeks to formally change the policies and practices of the hotel management and obtain compensation for the women who suffered.””

Besides the hotel and Ramirez, other defendants include Salvatore Loduca and Philip Lozia, President and Vice-President of the Broadway Plaza Hotel, respectively.

“”We are participating in this lawsuit to protect the rights of every person in New York to be free from the kind of abuse and harassment that is alleged here. All workers must be treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with the law, “” said David Barrett, a partner in the New York law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP, cooperating attorneys with the ACLU.

Other claims in the lawsuit were the Fair Labor Standards Act, the New York Labor Law, Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act, New York State Human Rights Law, New York City Human Rights Law and the Child Labor provision of the New York Labor Law.

The ACLU previously filed discrimination charges against the hotel with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on February 4, 2004. The ACLU received “”notices of right to sue”” from the EEOC recently, which permitted today’s lawsuit to make claims for the plaintiffs under federal employment and sex discrimination laws.

For more information read the EEOC charges online: /node/10013

To obtain the legal complaint, go to: /node/35098

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