Two Filipina domestic workers for German diplomat were overworked, underpaid: lawsuit

Photo credit: James Keivom/New York Daily News

From the New York Daily News:

by Rahima Nasa

Two Filipina domestic workers were underpaid by their German diplomat boss for 90-hour weeks that included scraping bird droppings from the wall of his Westchester home, the former employees charge in a new lawsuit.

Sherile Pahagas, 32, and Edith Mendoza, 51, say their pay worked out to about $4 an hour from Pit Kohler, a German civil servant living in Harrison and working at the United Nations, the pair allege in court papers filed in late June with the Southern District of New York.

“I worked all day cleaning the house and taking care of the Kohlers’ four young children,” said Mendoza.

The work also included one above-and-beyond task that resulted from the Kohlers’ practice of allowing pet birds to fly around the six-bedroom home.

“I was even scraping bird droppings from the wall,” Mendoza said.

Before the women arrived to the United States, Kohler and his wife Mareike Kohler agreed to pay them $10 per hour for a 35-hour work week, plus a room and meals. They would also be getting 1.5 times her hourly rate for over 40 hours of work, according to the court complaint.

“It all turned out to be lies,” said Mendoza.

According to the federal complaint, the women allege that they only ended up making $350.70 per week after being paid half the legal minimum wage, despite being promised that they would receive overtime.

Mendoza worked for the Kohlers from January 2015 to June 2016. When she fell ill, she said Kohlers insisted she continue working and did not set aside time for her to see a doctor, the suit alleges.

The doctor eventually recommended some time off, but the Kohler’s did not grant any.

"In May 2016, she visited a doctor twice," the lawsuit alleges. "On the second occasion, Pit Kohler threatened to fire Ms. Mendoza if she ever missed work again. In June 2016, Ms. Mendoza decided to visit the doctor and consequently defendants fired her."

“I’m a human, not a robot,” Mendoza said, explaining why she defied her boss to visit the doctor. “I didn’t want to die like this.”

Pahagas worked for the Kohlers from November 2012 and October 2014. About nine months into her employment, Pahagas complained of the long hours, and her workweek was reduced from 102 hours to 92 hours, she said. But she was never paid overtime, she said.

Mendoza met Pahagas through a chance encounter at a park when Mendoza was working for Damayan, an organization that advocates for migrant worker rights. Pahagas told Mendoza about a German diplomat she was working for who wasn’t paying her the wages he promised.

She was able to connect the dots when Pahagas mentioned the names of one Kohler’s children and described their pet birds.

“I couldn’t believe they had done the same thing they did to me to another person,” said Mendoza.

Pahagas said she worked for the Kohlers for about six months but left after she became pregnant and feared that the workload would cause her to have a miscarriage.

Like Mendoza, the Kohlers also breached their contract with her and failed to pay her for all the hours she worked, she claims.

“When I complained to the Kohlers that they weren’t paying me like they promised, they just told that they couldn’t afford to pay me more,” said Pahagas.

Shortly after the women realized what happened, they sued the Kohlers.

“I don’t want them to do this to another Filipina or anyone else,” said Pahagas.

They are asking the Kohlers to pay them their unpaid wages, legal fees, and unspecified damages for breach of contract.

A judge will determine if Kohler, whose position at the German mission is unclear, is entitled to diplomatic immunity. In 2009, a federal court in New York ruled that a domestic worker employed by a diplomat in his or her household is not covered under diplomatic immunity because it is not an "official" act.

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