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Venezuelan housekeeper settles suit against MoCo family

A Venezuelan housekeeper has reached an out-of-court settlement with the Montgomery County family she said treated her like a “prisoner” in their home for four months and never paid her the $350-per-week salary they promised her.

Terms of the settlement between Janet Gonzalez and the Caron family of Dickerson were not released. The settlement also resolves litigation brought against the Carons by three other housekeepers, who claimed they were paid much less than the promised $350 but did not allege the same level of mistreatment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day signed the settlement order Dec. 6.

The named defendants were Belinda Caron; her husband, James Caron; and their adult daughter, Brittany Caron.

The Carons’ attorney, Dennis M. Ettlin, said the family denies the allegations but agreed to settle the case because the cost and strain of the litigation had become too much. Ettlin is with Brown & Sturm in Rockville.

The women’s attorney, Nathan Norton of the Legal Aid Bureau Inc., said he would not comment on the case until his clients receive the first settlement check, expected in early January.

Gonzalez filed suit in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Aug. 10, 2010, alleging the Carons violated federal and state wage laws as well as the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act by using “psychological abuse and non-violent coercion” to force her to work.

The other three plaintiffs — Lisa Wilkinson, Maura Cerrano and Paula Diaz — were added to Gonzalez’s lawsuit in September 2010. The women, also represented by Legal Aid, said they worked for the Carons in 2008 and 2009.

At a news conference the day she filed suit, Gonzalez said her “nightmare” ended when the Carons left her alone one day in January 2009 and she called the National Human Trafficking Hotline, whose number she had seen three days earlier on television. The hotline connected her to CASA de Maryland’s Domestic Worker Committee, which soon arrived at the Carons’ home and transported her from the house.

She alleged the Carons’ abuse included denying her transportation to the nearest Metro station, about 25 miles away; using degrading comments, such as “liar,” “stupid” and “lazy,” and restricting access to the telephone and Internet. At one point, Gonzalez said, she asked to be paid and Belinda Caron threatened to have her husband call the police and have her arrested.

Gonzalez’s employment with the Carons began after she spotted the family’s ad on the website Craigslist. The Carons were seeking a live-in, Spanish-speaking housekeeper to work Mondays through Fridays, wash and iron clothes, cook, and perform other household duties. The pay was advertised on Craigslist at $350 a week.

Gonzalez, who has lived in the United States for 13 years, alleged the Carons told her she would not need to drive, as Brittany Caron would drive her to and from the Shady Grove Metro Station.

According to Gonzalez, she began work Monday, Sept. 21, 2009.

Friday, Oct. 2, was to be her first payday. However, at noon, Belinda Caron told Gonzalez she did not have money to pay her and would do so the following Wednesday. When Wednesday came, Caron said she would not be able to pay her for another two weeks, Gonzalez claimed.

According to the complaint, this pattern recurred every two weeks into early November, when Gonzalez told Brittany Caron that if she did not get paid she would lose her rental home in Washington, D.C.

At that point, Gonzalez alleged, the Carons began restricting her access to the telephone and computers and refused to drive her to the Metro Station.

A month later, on Dec. 12, Belinda Caron threatened to call the police on her, Gonzalez claimed. In late January, Gonzalez saw the ad for the trafficking hotline.

When CASA de Maryland showed up at the Carons’ home on Jan. 31, Gonzalez said she “felt very happy. I realized I wasn’t alone.”

The complaint alleged that the Carons violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the Maryland Wage and Hour Law by failing to pay the housekeepers minimum wage. The family also violated the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law by failing to pay her all wages due, including overtime, the complaint stated.

The women also alleged breach of contract, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, and negligence.

They sought unspecified damages.

JANET GONZALEZ ET AL. V. BELINDA CARON ET AL.

Court:

U.S. District Court, Greenbelt

Case No.:

8:10-cv-02188-CBD

Judge:

Charles B. Day

Outcome:

Settlement

Dates:

Event: September 2009-January 2010

Suit filed: Aug. 10, 2010

Settlement order: Dec. 6, 2011

Plaintiffs’ Attorney:

Nathan Norton of Legal Aid Bureau Inc. in Baltimore.

Defendants’ Attorney:

Dennis M. Ettlin of Brown & Sturm in Rockville.

Counts:

Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Maryland Wage and Hour Law, Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law, breach of contract, fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation and negligence.