A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss claims in a lawsuit by 18 survivors of human trafficking against Star One Staffing, Inc. and some of its officers and employees. Yesterday’s decision clears the way for the survivors’ claims of human trafficking, forced labor, and racketeering to move forward in the court.
As set out in the complaint filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the defendants recruited the plaintiffs from the Philippines and the United States using fraudulent visa applications, false promises, and misrepresentations to induce the plaintiffs to work for the defendants in the United States. Once employed by defendants, plaintiffs were compelled to live in severely crowded housing and to work long hours in country clubs and hotels in Florida and New York. To ensure that the plaintiffs complied with their demanding work schedules, plaintiffs were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, deportation, cancellation of their visas, loss of work, lawsuits, and blacklisting. The defendants also failed to pay the plaintiffs their legally-required wages, deducting exorbitant fees from the plaintiffs’ pay for insufficient food, overcrowded housing and transportation. As a result of this campaign of fraud and coercion, the plaintiffs remained in fear and believed they had no choice but to obey their orders and continue working.
The plaintiffs are represented by Human Rights USA, the International Human Rights Clinic of The George Washington University Law School, and Gregory Schell of Florida Legal Services.
Allison Lefrak, Human Rights USA’s Litigation Director and one of the attorneys for the 18 plaintiffs, said "Judge Ryskamp has agreed that our clients have raised serious allegations of forced labor and human trafficking, and has vindicated their right to pursue those claims under the Alien Tort Statute and RICO. In a significant victory for our clients, the court will now carefully examine the defendants' actions."
The defendants argued that one of the main tools for human rights litigation in U.S. courts, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), only applies to human rights violations that occur outside the United States. The court rejected this argument, upholding the rights of survivors of human rights abuses to bring forward claims regardless of whether the harm took place inside or outside U.S. borders. Recognizing the gravity of abuses that can be inflicted on workers by their employers, Judge Ryskamp stated in his decision that there is "no doubt that human trafficking and forced labor violate specific norms accepted by the civilized world."
The lawsuit - Magnifico, et al. v. Villanueva et al., 10-cv-80771 - is pending before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.