Korean Immigrant Worker Sues Buddhist Monk for Human Trafficking and Labor Violations

Monday, Aug 8, 2011

New York, NY -- The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) has filed a complaint in Brooklyn federal court under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), on behalf of a Korean immigrant worker against a Buddhist monk and his family members for violating federal human trafficking and labor laws.

The plaintiff, a citizen of the Republic of Korea, worked as a domestic worker for Soo Bok Choi, a prominent Buddhist monk, and his family members Sung Bok Choi, Kyung Bok Choi, Young Il Choi, Young Jin Choi, Young Mi Choi, and Ki Soon Lee.  She also performed custodial duties for the monk's temple.  The plaintiff arrived in New York in 1998, believing that she would work for the Choi family and receive her pay as agreed.  Instead, the Choi family forced her to work long hours without pay and without freedom to leave their residence for 12 years. She cooked, cleaned, and performed numerous other household chores in the Choi family's home and Soo Bok Choi's Buddhist temple.  Although she was promised wages for her work, she was never paid.  When she asked for her pay, the Choi family responded with threats of physical harm and death.  In addition, they did not allow her any days off, deprived her of medical care, withheld her passport, and restricted her ability to make contact with anyone outside the household.  She was finally able to escape the Choi household last year.  

"This man calls himself a monk, but to me, he is a criminal," said the plaintiff through an interpreter.  She continued, "He stole 12 years of my life even though I worked hard for him and his family.  It's not right to look down on the weak and cause them damage just because you have power and status."  

"It is deplorable that a worker went without pay for 12 years," said AALDEF Staff Attorney Ivy Suriyopas.  "The defendants were able to intimidate her, isolate her, and lie to her about the laws in the U.S. and her rights for so long. Unfortunately, labor trafficking continues to exist in the shadows, but this immigrant worker has stepped forward to assert her rights and expose her abusive working conditions." she continued.  

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP is serving as pro bono co-counsel on this case. 

The complaint can be read here

AALDEF's Anti-Trafficking Initiative provides free legal representation to trafficked 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.  

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