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Housekeeper Enslaved in Virginia for Three Years Wins $1.1 Million in Backpay

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Former World Bank employee Emma Zegarra is being forced to pay $1.1 million in back wages and restitution to Virginia Carazani, whom she kept enslaved in her Vienna, Virginia home for over three years. Carazani’s escape was facilitated by a good samaritan and the FBI. A legal complaint ensued in January of 2012.  

Zegarra originally cooperated with the law before disappearing, likely to Bolivia.  This brought about a motion for a default judgement this month by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras.  According to the ruling, Zegarra “ignored a court-ordered motion to compel, failed to attend a court-ordered status hearing, and has been unresponsive to discovery requests since the filing of the April 27, 2012 status report.”

The long saga began in Bolivia where Carazani had been employed as a house cleaner and nanny for over 8 years.  During this time she earned $100 a month.  When her employer was hired by the World Bank, Carazani was lured to America and promised good employment and wages:

In 2006, Zegarra took a job with the World Bank and moved to Vienna, Va. The economist promised Carazani $7 an hour and a five-day work week with health insurance for her and her young son, plus overtime and sick leave if she would move to the United States to work for the family, Carazani stated in her complaint.

The situation quickly changed for Carazani in the U.S. when her “employer” confiscated the passports and legal documents of both her and her child, making it difficult for Carazani to live her life.  During her three years of forced servitude in the Zegarra home, Carazani was never paid for the 75 hour work weeks she endured and was never granted vacation time or sick days.  Zegarra constantly threatened her with deportation and told Carazani her communications were being monitored at all times:

“In an effort to terrify Ms. Carazani, the defendant told Ms. Carazani that a device in her World Bank office allowed Zegarra to listen to Ms. Carazani’s phone conversations in the home,” her complaint stated. “The belief that all of her telephone calls were monitored prevented Ms. Carazani from telling her family about the abuse she was suffering the United States. By instilling fear in Ms. Carazani, the defendant kept Ms. Carazani isolated from the outside world. Ms. Carazani was unable to tell anyone she was being held in forced labor.”

According to the complaint, when Carazani got sick, Zegarra “dropped her off alone at an emergency room. When the hospital bills arrived, Zegarra forced Ms. Carazani to request money from her own family members to cover the bills.”

In 2009, Carazani escaped and found legal representation:

Carazani then provided the court with her employment contract, the prevailing wage determination policy guidance from the Employment and Training Administration, the prevailing wage rates for housekeepers from 2006 to 2009 in the Washington area, the federal minimum wage for that period, a weekly tabulation of the hours she worked, her medical expenses, her T-Visa and declarations from her mental health counselor.

After entering a default judgment for Carazani, the judge used those documents to calculate damages.

The million dollar retribution may be the only thing about this case that is out of the ordinary. Daily, undocumented and otherwise exploitable low-wage workers in the United States have their passports confiscated and are threatened with deportation by abusive bosses. This type of behavior takes place on scales large and small.


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