Monday, October 18, 2010
Court Upholds $760,000 Damage Award in Human Trafficking Case
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal has upheld a nearly $760,000 award to an Indonesian domestic worker who claimed that a La Canada couple kept her as a virtual prisoner in their home, telling her that she would be raped and her organs harvested if she tried to leave.
Div. Eight on Thursday. in an unpublished opinion. rejected Andrew Tija and Sycamore Choi’s challenge to a verdict in favor of Suminarti Sayuti Yusuf on her claims of human trafficking, conversion, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Yusuf said she came to the United States to work for Tija and Choi on the promise that she would be paid $500 per month, but she said that the pair never paid her, took her passport and refused to allow her time off to leave the house to go to the Indonesian consulate or a mosque.
A jury found Tija and Choi liable at trial before the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2009, and awarded damages to Yusuf that included $500,000 in punitive damages.
Yusuf has worked as a nanny and domestic servant around the world, including as a nanny for the Saudi ambassador in London for three years. She also worked for Delaina Tighe, an American, in Saudi Arabia for 15 years, and accompanied Tighe’s family to San Diego on visits.
In 2005, Yusuf met Sudibyo Tjiptokesuma and agreed to serve as a housekeeper for his son, Tija, at the rate of $500 per month on the condition that she first work for Tjiptokesuma for one month, according to testimony. Her daily duties included laundry, ironing, cleaning the five-bedroom house, cooking and massaging Choi’s feet.
Although she had previously interacted with people outside of her employment in the United States and abroad, she was only allowed to leave Tija and Choi’s house in their company to go to a restaurant or supermarket.
Yusuf said that Tija and Choi told her she would be thrown in jail and deported if she left the house by herself. They also berated her as “stupid,” and derided her dark skin color and religion, telling her that Americans “accepted that Muslim people are terrorists.”
After two months with Tija and Choi, Yusuf sought help from family members of Tighe, who called the FBI. Yusuf was escorted from the household by sheriff’s deputies on April 1, 2006.
Yusuf filed suit in 2007, and a jury awarded her nearly $256,000 in damages after a week-long trial, plus punitive damages.
Tija and Choi appealed, but Justice Laurence D. Rubin wrote that Yusuf introduced sufficient evidence to support a claim under Civil Code Sec. 52.5, which provides a civil cause of action for a victim of human trafficking. He pointed out that Yusuf’s testimony not only showed that she was deprived of her liberty, but that she was the victim of fraud and coercion that overbore her will.
Rubin similarly reasoned that there was sufficient evidence to support Yusuf’s other claims, as well as punitive damages.
“Contrary to appellants’ blanket statement that there is no evidence supporting the jury’s punitive damages award, the evidence shows that appellants berated respondent, failed to pay her the promised wages, disparaged her ethnicity and religion, refused to allow her any time off and severely restricted her liberty by coercion,” he wrote. “We need say nothing more.”
Presiding Justice Tricia A. Bigelow and Justice Elizabeth A. Grimes joined Rubin in his opinion.
Attorneys Paul G. McNamara and Robert S. Nicksin of O’Melveny & Myers, and Gus T. May and Kevin Kish of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, represented Yusuf on appeal. Tija and Choi were represented by the Law Offices of Mark J. Werksman and Mark M. Hathaway.
The case is Yusuf v. Tija, B222277.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company