Couple accused of exploiting worker

March 13, 2008 10:32:48 PM PDT
In Atherton, dozens of domestic workers staged a march and demonstration, after one couple was accused of exploiting their worker in a federal lawsuit. The Legal Aid Society of San Francisco says its client worked 14 hour days, at pay well below today's minimum wage.

On most days these women would be inside, cleaning homes and taking care of other people's children.

But on Thursday, they were marching in the streets, united behind 69-year-old Vilma Serralta. A lawsuit was filed in Federal Court on Thursday charging an Atherton couple with illegal employment practices.

"Ms. Serralta worked up to seven days a week typically for more than 14 hours a day without breaks to clean the 9,000 square foot, six bedroom resident of the Kahns," said Christina Chung from the Legal Aid Society.

Vilma says she worked for Sakhawat and Roomy Khan from 2002 until September of 2006. Her attorneys say the pay and conditions violated labor laws.

"They paid me at one point $1,300 dollars a month and then lowered that to a $1,000 dollars a month," said Vilma Serralta through a translator.

Attorneys would not say if Vilma is a legal resident of the United States, but say her immigration status is not relevant.

"California Labor Laws don't discriminate weather a worker is migrant, citizen, undocumented or documented," said Carole Vigne from the Legal Aid Society.

There were people at today's rally who say they "are" treated fairly by their employers but wanted to support the many who are not.

"Thank God that I have wonderful employers that respect our work and treat us well," said housekeeper Juliana Romero through a translator.

Today's march ended outside the Kahn's $17 million dollar gated home in Atherton. The Legal Aid Society says Vilma Serralta's lawsuit represents what they believe is a nationwide problem involving domestic workers.

"They are often isolated in private households and their abuse remains hidden behind closed doors. The exploitation of domestic workers is the dirty secret of the wealthy," said Chung.

The Kahns have hired a Palo Alto law firm to represent them. Late on Thursday they returned our calls and say that the couple denies the allegations and have no further comment at this time.