ALEXANDRIA, Va. - (Mealey's) A U.S. Department of State
information technology manager and her husband tricked an Ethiopian woman into
accompanying them as their domestic servant to Japan, where they held her
virtually as a prisoner in their home and forced her to work for them for less
than $1 per hour and where the husband repeatedly raped the woman with his
wife's consent, a Virginia federal judge found Sep. 4 in awarding the woman
$3.3 million in damages on a default judgment against the couple (Jane Doe
v. Linda Howard and Russell Howard, No. 1:11-cv-1105, E.D. Va.; 2012 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 125414).
The Ethiopian woman, identified only as Jane Doe, filed a
lawsuit in 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
against State Department Manager Linda Howard and her husband, Russell Howard,
alleging involuntary servitude, forced labor and human trafficking in violation
of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), conspiracy and unjust
enrichment. The complaint also accuses Russell Howard of obstructing
Doe says she was hired by the Howards in 2008 as a live-in
housekeeper at the couple's home in Yemen,
where Linda Howard worked at the U.S. embassy. Doe says she
agreed to move with the couple to Japan after Linda Howard was
transferred to the embassy there and that she was promised wages of $300 per
month, time off each week, health insurance and a safe place to live and work.
Once in Japan,
Doe says, Russell Howard repeatedly raped her, forced her to perform oral sex
and sexually assaulted her. Doe says Linda Howard was complicit in her
husband's sexual abuse, telling Doe that she should gratify her husband and
make him happy. Doe, who speaks little English and no Japanese, says the
Howards also used nonphysical force, such as isolation and threats of
deportation, to coerce her into servitude.
After five months in Japan, Doe says, she fled the
Howards' home in the middle of the night. She says that after she
reported the abuse, the State Department removed Linda Howard from her overseas
post and launched an investigation into the Howards. She says that while
the investigation was going on, Russell Howard flew to Ethiopia in
June 2011 to find her. She says he contacted the Ethiopian police to
have false charges filed against her.
After Russell Howard, who is from Australia, failed to
respond to Doe's complaint, and Linda Howard's answer to the complaint was
stricken pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2)(A), Doe moved for
default judgment, which Magistrate Judge Thomas Rawles Jones Jr. granted in an
Aug. 7 report and recommendation.
The magistrate judge found that Doe's well-pleaded
allegations establish liability against the Howards on all counts.
Magistrate Judge Jones said that default judgment against Russell Howard was
appropriate because he did not respond to the complaint and that judgment
against Linda Howard was appropriate based on the four factors established in Belk
v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (269 F.3d 305, 348 [4th Cir.
2001]): bad faith, amount of prejudice, need for deterrence and effectiveness
of less drastic sanctions.
Linda Howard acted in bad faith by telling the court that
she was unaware of any upcoming overseas job-related travel and then two weeks
later retiring and leaving the country, the magistrate judge said. She
also refused to appear for a deposition as ordered by the court and refused to
communicate with Doe's attorneys to facilitate discovery as ordered by the
court, Magistrate Judge Jones said.
"Plaintiff has been prejudiced severely by her inability
to take a deposition of Mrs. Howard and to receive information necessary to
permit her to prosecute her case," the magistrate judge found. "There is
a great need to deter defendants from determining that the proper response to
litigation is to leave the country and refuse to participate in the resolution
of a dispute. Finally, in light of Mrs. Howard's flight from the country,
it is clear that less drastic sanctions would not be effective."
After a hearing, Judge Liam O'Grady adopted the magistrate
judge's findings and recommendation and awarded Doe $3,306,468 in compensatory
and punitive damages under the TVPA. The amount includes $1,250,000 in
compensatory emotional distress damages for forced sexual servitude; $44,500
($500 a day) in emotional distress damages for forced labor and trafficking;
$11,968 for wage restitution and unjust enrichment damages; and $2 million in
punitive damages for the Howards' "intentional egregious and outrageous
conduct, and the fact that Mrs. Doe continues to live in a constant state of
"Here, the crime, involving sexual assaults, forced
labor, and trafficking is particularly depraved," Judge O'Grady said.
"The harm was physical, it involved the intentional disregard for the health
and safety of Mrs. Doe, it was repeated - involving approximately fourteen
instances of forced sexual acts, and the harm was planned with forethought and
intentionally inflicted on Mrs. Doe."
"In addition to the horrible circumstances relating to
the sexual assaults, forced labor, and trafficking, Mr. Howard also traveled
more than 8,000 miles from Virginia to Ethiopia in an
attempt to locate Mrs. Doe, even knowing that the State Department's
investigation into the trafficking matter was ongoing," the judge said.
"These attempts at contact exacerbated Mrs. Doe's trauma and her ongoing fear."
Doe is represented by Daniel Edward Chudd, Julie Moore
Carpenter and Sarah Ann Maguire of Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C.
Linda Howard of Arlington
is pro se.
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