Human trafficking involves “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.” In many cases, the foreign workers travel to the United States legally on a visitor or student visa; but upon entry into the United States, their passports are confiscated, and they are forced to work in unsafe working conditions and for sub-standard wages under the threat of physical harm to their families back home.
An employer who engages in labor trafficking (even indirectly through the use of an employee referral or recruitment agency) may be liable for numerous violations of state tort and contract laws and federal laws—including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended) on the basis of national origin discrimination, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 on the basis of race discrimination because of “ancestry and ethnic characteristics.”
SMITH LAW can help victims of labor trafficking pursue all available legal remedies, including the remedies available under Title VII and § 1981. Specifically, under Title VII, employees may recover back pay from the date of termination (or failure to promote) to the date of trial, compensatory damages for emotional distress, pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life, and punitive damages where the employer “engaged in intentional discrimination with malice or reckless indifference.” Under Title VII, compensatory and punitive damages are capped based on the size of the employer. By contrast, under § 1981, compensatory and punitive damages are not capped.
Victims of labor trafficking are often too afraid to report their situation because of threats to their safety and the safety of their families. However, co-workers of victims of labor trafficking who have an objectively reasonable belief that the employer’s conduct constitutes unlawful discrimination, and who engage in “protected” conduct by, for example, complaining about the unlawful discrimination, may have a claim under Title VII for unlawful retaliation if they are demoted, transferred or terminated.