A Chilean nanny brought to the U.S. by a socialite couple, also from Chile, is claiming she was forced to work in virtual slavery conditions.
In a lawsuit filed last week in New York City, Felicitas del Carmen Villanueva Garnica, 50, said she was “trafficked” by her employers under false pretenses “for the purpose of unlawfully compelling her to care for their young children.”
In all, Villanueva worked three months for aristocrats Malu Custer Edwards and Micky Hurley in their opulent Upper East Side apartment. She took care of their three kids – ages 6, 8 and 10 – in 12-hour days with allegedly no time off — according to The New York Post. She was given just one day off since she started working for the Hurleys in early 2011, the Post reported.
She also told authorities that even though she was promised $10 per hour, she received only $800 a month ― that is just $2 per hour.
The Post reports Villanueva was constantly reprimanded and was told to never leave the house or speak to anyone outside the family. The woman said that whenever she protested, Edwards would tell her that “no other nannies in the U.S. make more than $700 per month.”
In court papers, Villanueva claims that after two months she begged to be allowed to go back to Chile, but Edwards allegedly refused, telling the nanny she had signed a contract.
“They brought me here to mistreat me,” Villanueva told the Post. “They were telling me I don’t have any rights of any sort.”
The woman charges that the kids repeatedly hit her and once slammed a refrigerator door on her head so hard she nearly lost consciousness.
The couple has denied the allegations, which include having provided the woman with an illegal passport.
“The claims are completely without merit and will be fully refuted in court,” said their lawyer, Robin Alperstein.
According to the Post, Villanueva began working for the couple in Chile in December 2010, when an employment agency sent her to the family.
“In Chile, they behaved very nicely. When we came to the US, that’s when the situation changed completely. I honestly didn’t know. I didn’t even imagine it,” she told the paper.
She said her American nightmare finally ended on March 14, 2011, when she gathered the courage to walk away. With a cell phone she had purchased on her only day off the month before, and following the advice he got from the vendor, she managed to contact the nonprofit crime-victims group Safe Horizon and made her way to freedom.
A few months later, in July, the state Department of Labor ordered the couple to pay Villanueva $6,302 in back wages. Still living in Manhattan and applying for a visa, the former nanny says she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and pedophobia, a fear of children.