A 55-year-old housekeeper sued her Montgomery County employers Tuesday, alleging the family of three kept her in a "forced labor" arrangement and didn't pay her for more than four months of work.
An attorney for the family denied the allegations. And in earlier conversations with Montgomery County police detectives, the housekeeper said she was allowed to leave the employer's house and that she had access to a telephone, according to a police spokeswoman. The detectives didn't find any indication of human trafficking, which they have pursued in other cases, and didn't file charges in the matter, law enforcement officials said.
Attorneys for the domestic worker, Janet Gonzalez, a legal immigrant from Venezuela, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Maryland on Tuesday. Casa de Maryland played an active role in the case, and called a news conference Tuesday morning to announce the filing.
Among the allegations in the lawsuit:
- The employers – Belinda, James and Brittany Caron – placed an advertisement on Craigslist, seeking a Spanish-speaking housekeeper in their home, in rural Dickerson, 30 miles from Gonzalez's home in Washington.
- Gonzalez responded, and eventually went to work under the impression she would be taken to and from the Shady Grove Metro station, which is 16 miles from the Caron's home.
- The Caron's kept Gonzalez at their home, continually promising her she would be paid, but never doing so, and refused to drive her back to the Metro station.
- The Carons "restricted plaintiff's access to the telephone and to computers."
- The Carons never paid Gonzalez.
- Around January of this year, Gonzalez saw a human trafficking hotline advertised on television. "Once she was able to gain access to a telephone, she called the number and was eventually put in touch with an employee of Casa of Maryland," the lawsuit stated. "Casa of Maryland arranged for a group to go to [the Carson's] house and take [Gonzalez] from the house."
Asked why Gonzalez hadn't used the phone to call the police, friends or a taxi, Ashwini Jaisingh, a domestic worker organizer for Casa, said Gonzalez was worried the police would take the family's side, two people she knew well had left the country, and she didn't have any money for a cab.
Belinda Caron referred inquiries to her attorney, Dennis Ettlin, who said the Carons denied any wrongdoing.
"They never held her captive … She was a liberty to leave anytime she wanted to," said Ettlin.
The Carons also attempted to get her another job, he added: "Jimmy Caron tried to find employment for her."
Lucille Baur, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County police, said detectives met with Gonzalez and spent many hours on the case. Gonzalez told the detectives she was allowed to leave and had access to the phone and Internet, Baur said.