A lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Francisco against two prominent executives alleges the couple paid a longtime live-in nanny less than the minimum wage and repeatedly sexually harassed her.
The lawsuit against Cameron Poetzscher, head of corporate development for Uber, and Varsha Rao, head of global operations for Airbnb, was filed Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of Julieta Yang, a Filipina migrant worker.
Attorneys from the Asian Law Caucus and the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic at Golden Gate University of Law announced the lawsuit this morning at a press conference with advocates from Migrante Northern California, a group that supports and advocates for Filipino migrant workers.
Yang began working for Poetzscher and Rao in 2008, while they were living in Singapore, and relocated to the United States with them in 2013 after they promised to triple her wages, according to the lawsuit.
While she cared for the couple’s two children, she also performed housekeeping, cooking and other chores for them, routinely working more than nine hours a day, six days a week for a flat rate of $450 a week, according to the lawsuit.
In response to her complaints, the defendants at some points made her sign falsified time sheets before they would give her a paycheck for the week, the lawsuit alleges.
In addition, Poetzscher is accused of repeatedly sexually harassing Yang. He walked around naked in front of her, asked her to give him massages, made sexual remarks and innuendos, questioned her about her sex life and on at least one occasion masturbated in front of her, the lawsuit alleges.
Yang said she complained to Rao and to Poetzscher more than once about the wage violations and Poetzscher’s behavior before quitting in April 2015. Poetzscher apologized in some instances, on one occasion noting that he was not supposed to act that way in the United States, but the behavior continued, according to the lawsuit.
Uber and Airbnb did not respond directly to a request for comment this afternoon, but Uber released a statement from a spokesperson for Cameron Poetzscher that said he and Rao were “deeply shocked and saddened” and called the allegations “completely and utterly false”:
“Julieta worked as our nanny for seven years and was an important part of our family, someone both our children loved deeply. … Julieta left in April, and we have not heard from her since then.”
Yang chose to come forward after she sought help at the Philippine Consulate General and connected with someone at Migrante, who informed her of her rights, according to Winifred Kao, litigation director at the Asian Law Caucus.
Cases such as Yang’s are not uncommon. A 2013 report issued by the National Domestic Workers Alliance found that 61 percent of domestic workers reported being paid less than what the group estimated was needed to support a family and 25 percent reported being paid below the California minimum wage.
Domestic workers are especially vulnerable because their work place is also the place where they live, and advocates believe sexual harassment for such women is greatly underreported, Kao said.
Kao said Yang’s case was unusual primarily because Yang was willing to come forward publicly, in an effort to help other women in her situation.
Yang said Wednesday at the press conference:
“I’m not alone. … I want other migrant domestic workers to know that they don’t have to work under conditions like this either.”