A Guatemalan woman has filed a $1 million suit against a Takoma Park man and his wife in U.S. District Court here, alleging that she was forced to work as a maid for less than 20 cents an hour while being confined to the family's house under "duress."
The 23-year-old woman, who claims to have been recruited for the job by someone representing the family in Guatemala, alleges in the suit that she was held in "involuntary servitude" for almost a year by the Takoma Park couple in violation of the Constitution.
The woman, Ana Beatriz Torres-Monterroso was allegedly promised a monthly salary of $200 plus a room of her own, the suit contends, however, that she was paid a total of $20 a month and given a damp, dark basement to sleep in.
Named as defendants in the suit are Ramiro and Guatemalan printer for the Organization of American States in Washington. Mrs. Blanco, reached by phone today, declined to comment Torres-Monterroso "was not a maid, on the case saying only that Miss she was a member of our family."
"When you come from a foreign country it is just like going to Mars, especially when you are threatened with deportation," said attorney William R. Diaz-Fontana, who is representing Miss Torres-Monterroso. He said that his client was not physically mentally coerced into remaining in the home for almost a year by the threat. She finally left the home to stay with friends in September, 1975, he said.
Under the terms of her visa to this country, she faced immediate deportation if her employment was terminated, the attorney said. Immigration officals have given her until April 2 to leave the country voluntarily, he said. He said he hoped the agency would extend the date in view of the court proceedings, however.
Diaz-Fontana said that any staff member of an international agency can request that agency to qualify him or her as a sponsor of an immigrant. After State Department approval, the alien can enter the country with a visa such as that issued to Miss Torres-Monterroso to work in the household of the international agency employee.
He said that particular visa category offers litle wage or work conditions safeguards for the alien.
The suit alleges in a footnote that the OAS was aware of the manner in which people such a Miss Torres-Monterroso were brought to the country and in fact encouraged it.
An OAS spokesman said today that three months ago the agency instituted new regulations for staff members to qualify as a sponsor under the visa program. The staff member must now file a request through the OAS personnel department stating that the alien's salary will be at least $400 a month and that suitable room and board will be provided, he said. That policy does not include workers already in the country, he said.
"Once an employee (visaed worker) is in the country, OAS has no control over whether the contract is being fulfilled or not," the spokesman said.
The suit alleges that Mis Torres-Monterroso enterd the United States on Sept. 27, 1974, and that she worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week and holidays for $50 a month for the next year. The Blancos deducted $30 each month, however, to defray the cost of her air fare here from Guatemala.
According to the suit, Miss Torres-Monterroso, who cannot speak or understand English, was told not to socialize with others who speak Spanish and was "constructively confined to the household by duress."
When she protested her salary and living conditions, "the defendants threatened her with deportation and confiscation of her passport," the suit alleges.
Diaz-Fontana has also filed a suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court for his client, seeking about $6,900 in what he said are unpaid wages and interest from the Blancos.