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For Client Held as Unpaid, Live-In, Round-The-Clock Source of Domestic Labor, Ropes & Gray Reaches a Confidential Settlement

Practices: Government Enforcement / White Collar Criminal Defense, Health Care, Litigation, Tax Tags: Pro Bono

A cross-practice, cross-office pro bono team has reached a settlement on behalf of a client in a human trafficking case brought to recover damages under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, D.C. Minimum Wage Law, and other statutes. Our client alleged that she was trafficked into the United States based on false representations, where she served as an unpaid, live-in, round-the-clock source of domestic labor for approximately five months before escaping. This matter was referred to the firm through our relationship with the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center.

Ropes & Gray filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in November 2015 against two U.S.-based defendants, as well as a defendant based in Jordan. The two U.S.-based defendants actively litigated the case, and moved to dismiss our client’s trafficking claims. Ropes & Gray defeated that motion to dismiss, with the Court agreeing that the complaint stated a valid claim under the relevant anti-trafficking statutes. In an opinion that is likely to have positive ramifications for future trafficking victims pursuing civil claims against their traffickers, the Court found that Ropes & Gray’s client had sufficiently pled that she believed she would suffer “serious harm or physical restraint” if she did not continue to work for the defendants, rejecting the defendants’ argument that a plaintiff need allege “actual physical harm or an explicit threat of such harm.” Lagayan v. Odeh, -- F. Supp. 3d --, No. 15-cv-01953 (APM), 2016 WL 4148189 (D.D.C. Aug. 2, 2016).

Ropes & Gray also pursued our client’s claims against the Jordan-based defendant, successfully seeking leave from the Court to serve that defendant by alternative means. Lagayan v. Odeh, -- F.R.D. --, No. 15-cv-01953 (APM), 2016 WL 4182349 (D.D.C. Aug. 5, 2016). The team also aggressively pursued discovery from the U.S.-based defendants. Then, roughly six weeks after prevailing in nearly all respects on the motion to dismiss, and in the middle of the principal defendant’s deposition, Ropes & Gray reached a confidential settlement.

As noted above, Ropes & Gray’s representation was in partnership with the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center. The Ropes & Gray litigation team was supervised by government enforcement partner Josh Levy (Boston), and included business & securities litigation counsel Marty Crisp (New York), business & securities litigation associate Jonathan Ference-Burke and litigation paralegal specialist Sophia Antzoulatos (all of Washington, D.C.) Tax & benefits partner Kat Gregor (Boston) and tax & benefits associate Brittany Cvetanovich (Chicago) provided invaluable assistance to the team.

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