A Filipino woman is suing a California couple for forcing her into “involuntary servitude for almost 3 years” at their family home. Edelynne Bergado says she was lured by Marlon and Nelle-Ann Velonza to the United States with promises of a well-paying job and a green card, but upon arrival had her passport confiscated by the couple and subjected to forced labor.
Bergado was working at a cosmetics factory run by the Velonza’s relatives in the Philippines when she was approached with a job offer. The couple asked her to come work for them in the United States, taking care of Mr. Velonza’s elderly mother. They promised her Php 9,000 (177 USD) salary, school tuition for Bergado’s children, and help obtaining a green card if she worked for them more than a year.
However, Rappler reports that the couple refused to let Bergado return home despite Mr. Velonza’s mother already going back to the Philippines.
Bergado claimed to have suffered from “extreme verbal abuse” and that she was forbidden from leaving her employers’ apartment without supervision, prohibited from speaking to anyone outside, and was monitored through security cameras when left alone.
“Edelynne was treated like a slave,” said Laboni Hoq, Advancing Justice-LA’s Director of Impact Litigation. “The defendants in this case knowingly benefited from human trafficking. It is illegal to lure someone into the country, keep them effectively imprisoned, and make them work for pennies an hour.”
Through intimidation and confiscation of belongings, Bergado said she felt compelled to continue working for them despite the inhumane conditions. In January 2017, Bergado escaped her traffickers when she was rescued by the police.
Bergado is suing the couple, alleging violations of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the California Labor Code, and other violations of the law.
Christopher Lapinig, Registered Legal Services Attorney at Advancing Justice-LA added that he hopes Bergado’s case will prompt others to come forward. “It is encouraging when, after escaping their traffickers, survivors like Edelynne stand up and seek justice. We hope that Edelynne’s bravery inspires other survivors to do the same,” he said.