CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) – In 2009, former beauty queen-turned-Philippine Tourism Director Emma Ruth Yulo-Kitiyakara felt she “needed help in caring for her husband, who had a worsening Parkinson’s condition, and in packing their belongings in anticipation of her retirement in June 2011.” She decided to hire a housekeeper and caregiver from Manila as part of her household staff for a period of two years in her Manhattan, New York apartment.
Problem was on the night after Rosenda Millabangco Gonzaga of Sta. Ana, Manila landed at the San Francisco International Airport on Apr. 22, 2010, Yulo-Kitiyakara could not explain in court filings pending before Judge Laura Taylor Swain at the United States District Court in Southern District of New York why during the flight from California to New York, she would inform “for the first time (Ms. Gonzaga) that she would not be working for Yulo but instead for another family.”
Gonzaga’s new family turned out to be Joy McCarthy and husband Chris McCarthy, daughter and son-in-law, respectively, of New York’s Filipino Reporter publisher-editor Bert Pelayo and his wife, Linda Pelayo.
SALARY REDUCED BY LESS THAN A THIRD
Three weeks into her employment as housekeeper and caregiver of the McCarthy family at Orangeburg, New York home, Linda Pelayo told Ms. Gonzaga she “would not earn $1,600 salary (as) agreed in the Philippine contract (with Ms. Yulo). Instead, she would be paid $500 a month, $100 to be withheld to cover (Ms. Gonzaga’s) debts (cash advances from Ms. Yulo) in the Philippines,” according to court records.
Instead of earning $9.68 per hour as enumerated in her contract, Gonzaga would be earning $1 per hour if she were paid $400 a month for working at least 400 hours.
The contract prepared by Yulo-Kitiyakara for Gonzaga which they both signed in Manila on Feb. 16, 2010 detailed Gonzaga’s duties as employee of Yulo-Kitiyakara as “dusting furniture and cleaning the apartment, machine washing clothes, sheets and towels, cooking, washing of dishes and various other tasks related to household work.” The contract was presented to the U.S. Embassy by Gonzaga in order for her to be issued an A-3 diplomatic visa, a visa issued to personal employees, attendants and servants of foreign officials holding an A visa.
The contract also stipulated that Gonzaga “shall render a minimum of seven (7) hours (of work) per day, five (5) days of service a week and be ready to render at least 1 ½ hours of overtime work per day or a minimum of forty (40) hours of overtime per month; .. . overtime pay shall be computed at 1 ½ times the basic pay per hour; after ninety (90) days of employment, the employer will remit payment by check or electronic transfer to the employee’s bank account; and the Employee cannot be required to work after the agreed work hours without prior agreement and just compensation.”
But according to a 15-count claim for relief Gonzaga filed against the McCarthys, Pelayos and Yulo-Kitiyakara separately and/or collectively for violating TVPRA (Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act of 2008) for involuntary servitude, forced labor, trafficking into servitude, unlawful conduct with respect to documents, Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York Labor Law for minimum wage, unpaid overtime, “spread-of-hours” pay, conversion for taking away her passport without authorization and exclusion of plaintiff’s ownership rights in the property; intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, quantum meruit and unjust enrichment, Gonzaga was a victim of human trafficking, held in conditions of involuntary servitude and forced labor for nearly 11 months.
Gonzaga’s plight was longer than that of Marichu Suarez Baoanan, who complained in 2009 that she was subjected by the family of Philippine Ambassador to the United Nations Lauro Baja for “three months to involuntary servitude forced labor, peonage, debt bondage, and slavery as a domestic worker in their home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side” in 2008. The case was later settled.
Gonzaga, in a complaint filed on her behalf by Carletta F. Higginson, Andrew J. Thomas and Daniel D. Welsh of Jenner & Block in New York and Los Angeles, California, respectively, said she is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, including attorney’s fees, against the defendants, who “confined her, stripped her of her passport, restricted communication with people outside the home and forced her to clean the homes of the defendants and their friends” under threats of being handcuffed and deported to the Philippines if she disobeyed their orders.
ALSO CAREGIVER TO 3 CHILDREN
Gonzaga worked at McCarthys as caregivers to their three children, 4, 8 and 9, and the family dog, for approximately 14 hours a day, seven days a week, continuously for 11 months. She did not get a sick day, despite being sick; nor a day off.
A typical day for her starts at 5:30 a.m. by waking up McCarthys’ children and preparing them for school, cooking and serving breakfast for the whole family. When children were gone, she would clean the whole house. Twice a month, she would clean house windows from the outside by climbing a tall ladder to reach the second floor, which terrified her because she had no help. Her only free time was going to shower and ate before the children returned from school.
When children returned, she was to supervise completion of their homework; cooked dinner for the family, and completed other tasks and served dinner at around 8 p.m. nightly. She was not allowed to eat with the McCarthys’.
After the family finished eating, Gonzaga had to clear the table, put the food away and clean the kitchen and prepare the children for bed. This would be the only time she would quickly eat her dinner.
The day for her ends at 9 p.m. Unless McCarthys had a company, she would work until 11 p.m. or later. When the McCarthys went out for the evening, she would stay up watching the children until they returned home, often at midnight or 1 p.m.
In the contract with Yulo-Kitiyakara, Gonzaga was to be provided “with free furnished accommodation, food, and working clothes,” but at the McCarthys, she “would retire (to sleep) to the basement room that she shared with the McCarthy defendants’ dog.”
On most weekends, Gonzaga’s day began at around 6:30 a.m. after waking up the McCarthy children and preparing them for their weekend activities while she rushed to cook and serve breakfast for the whole family. She would also clean house and make the more difficult task of keeping track of the children while they dirtied the house.
For two weekends a month, Gonzaga was shuttled from Orangeburg to Queens’s residence of the Pelayos, never allowing her to travel alone. She would clean Pelayo defendants’ home for a two-day job and be paid $20.
At one autumn of 2010, Gonzaga was shuttled to the home of Yulo-Kitiyakara in Manhattan from Orangeburg to clean Yulo’s home for a 20-hour job and was paid $15, less than $1.00 per hour.
In addition, the McCarthys frequently loaned out Gonzaga to friends and associates to clean and serve.
When Gonzaga requested to take an additional part-time work at a local grocery store to augment her meager income, the McCarthys forbade it, saying such work would “cause trouble.”
With no contact with the “outside” world, on or about March 1, 2011, while the McCarthys were out of the house, Gonzaga purchased a bus ticket to a town in California and took a taxi to the bus terminal in Manhattan and dashed for her freedom.
Yulo-Kitiyakara was 1969 Queen of the Pacific runner-up before joining the Philippine Tourism office for 22 years. Salvador Tuy, lawyer for the McCarthys and Pelayos, did not respond to email request for comment by this reporter. But Tuy reportedly denied any wrongdoing by the Pelayos and McCarthys. Tuy’s partner, Dennis Feliciano, asked the judge to dismiss Gonzaga’s complaint “or in the alternative, … have judgments for contribution and/or indemnification in whole or in part over and against co-defendant Yulo-Kitiyakara .. to the degree and proportionate share of the plaintiff recovery… .”
In her answer with counterclaim and cross-claim, Yulo-Kitiyakara’s defense lawyer Leo L. Rosales denies any wrongdoing of Yulo-Kitiyakara and “demands judgment in her favor on her Counterclaim and Cross-claim; and for such other further relief as the Court deems just and proper.”
Photo of Emma Ruth Yulo-Kitiyakara (FAXX/jGLi photograb from the Philippine Embassy)