NEW YORK — A Filipina immigrant worker has been awarded $1.2 million in damages in a human trafficking civil suit, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) said in a statement.
Elizabeth Ballesteros, represented by AALDEF, filed the case against her employer, Colonel Arif Mohamed Saeed Mohamed Al-Ali, a former student at the U.S. Naval War College’s International Program from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“The $1.2 million judgment reflects the suffering and emotional toll human trafficking has on its victims,” said Ivy O. Suriyopas of AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “This is a victory that we hope will encourage policy makers to recognize the severity of all forms of trafficking within the borders of the United States.”
Ballesteros arrived in Rhode Island from the UAE in 2010 to work for Al-Ali, his wife Samah Alharmoodi, and their children. For three months, Al-Ali subjected her to involuntary servitude, forced labor, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery as a domestic worker in their home. He did not allow her a single day off work, forbade her from speaking to anyone outside the household, withheld her passport, and sent only occasional wages in dirham currency to her family in the Philippines. Ultimately Ballesteros was able to escape and obtain representation from AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative.
Judge McConnell ordered Al-Ali to pay Ballesteros $10,000 per day for each of the 84 days that he found that Ballesteros was imprisoned and subject to emotional abuse in a damages hearing on December 26. However, in early 2012, Al-Ali’s former attorney stated that Al-Ali returned to the UAE because he did not want to spend any more money on the lawsuit and does not have any known assets in Rhode Island. Al-Ali has not appeared to defend himself in court since early 2012.
“Ms. Ballesteros finally had the opportunity to give unfettered testimony in a court of law,” said Suriyopas. “The judge recognized the ‘outrageous, illegal, and inhumane conduct’ she suffered at the hands of the defendant. Her experience as an immigrant domestic worker is all too common, and we are committed to helping her recover and seek justice.”
Samuel Bodurtha, an associate at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Rhode Island, is serving as pro-bono co-counsel on this case.