Filipina Immigrant Worker Overcomes Employer's Diplomatic Immunity Claim

Thursday, Jun 18, 2009

Filipina Immigrant Worker Overcomes Employer’s Diplomatic Immunity Claim

New York, NY — The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) announced that a former United Nations (UN) ambassador from the Philippines is not protected by diplomatic immunity in a Filipina worker’s civil lawsuit against him. A Manhattan federal judge yesterday denied the motion to dismiss of the former ambassador and his wife, stating that former diplomats are subject to only residual immunity once they have left their diplomatic posts.

“This is an exciting victory for Marichu Baoanan, and for other domestic workers who have been exploited and mistreated by diplomats. Ms. Baoanan will finally have the opportunity to have her case against the Bajas heard in court,” said Ivy Suriyopas, AALDEF staff attorney. She added: “At last, nannies, cooks, housekeepers, and other workers will be able to seek a remedy for their claims.”

Aaron Mendelsohn, an attorney at Troutman Sanders LLP in New York, which is serving as pro bono co-counsel to Ms. Baoanan, added: “Judge Marrero’s thorough and well-reasoned decision to deny diplomatic immunity protection to the Bajas is a vindication of Ms. Baoanan’s civil and human rights. Troutman Sanders is honored to work with AALDEF on behalf of Ms. Baoanan and other exploited domestic workers in the United States.”

AALDEF filed a complaint in Manhattan federal court in June 2008 on behalf of Marichu Suarez Baoanan against former UN ambassador Lauro Baja, Jr., his wife Norma Baja (an owner of Labaire International Travel), the Bajas’ adult daughter, Maria Elizabeth Facundo, and Labaire for violating various federal laws, including statutes against human trafficking. Ms. Baoanan, a citizen of the Philippines, described how she paid $5,000 to the Bajas and Labaire International Travel, in return for transportation, a visa, a work permit, and job placement services in the United States. Ms. Baoanan arrived in New York in early 2006, believing that she would receive assistance to find employment as a nurse. Instead, the defendants alleged a substantial debt against Ms. Baoanan and subjected her 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.

Marichu Baoanan said: “I hope that other workers will have the strength to expose their situations so that diplomat abuses won’t be repeated in the future. If employers are not taught a lesson, they’ll continue to mistreat their workers.” She continued, “I also want to thank all the people that continue to support me. If I was doing this alone, I would not be able to get as far as I have now. I am only able to have the conviction to do what I’m doing because I know that I have the support of the community.”

Ms. Baoanan sought assistance in 2006 from DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association, a Filipino labor rights group, and lawyers at AALDEF. AALDEF secured a T visa for Ms. Baoanan and Derivative T visas for her family members under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. Ms. Baoanan was reunited with her family in April 2008. Troutman Sanders LLP in New York is pro bono co-counsel on this case. A copy of Judge Marrero’s decision in Baoanan v. Baja et al. can be downloaded at www.aaldef.org/docs/BaoananOrder.pdf.

AALDEF’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative provides free legal representation to trafficked and exploited women and youth to apply for immigration relief, facilitate survivors’ access to human services, and represent them in civil litigation. AALDEF’s anti-trafficking efforts also include community education, outreach, and advocacy.

For more information:
Ivy O. Suriyopas
Staff Attorney
212.966.5932 ext. 235
isuriyopas@aaldef.org