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Baxla v. Chaudhri

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

December 21, 2016

POONAM BAXLA, Plaintiff,
v.
ASMA CHAUDHRI, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES C. CACHERIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Asma Chaudhri and Shahzad Chaudhri (collectively, “Defendants”) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. [Dkt. 13.] For the following reasons, the Court will deny Defendants' motion.

         I. Background

         Poonam Baxla (“Plaintiff” or “Baxla”) brings this lawsuit against Defendants for claims arising under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (“TVPRA”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1581-1597; the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219a; and Virginia law, including claims based upon unjust enrichment and false imprisonment. All of Plaintiff's claims result from her employment with Defendants from 2005 until 2015. The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint and, for the purposes of this motion, are presumed true.

         Ms. Baxla was born in India in or around 1978 or 1979. (Compl., ¶ 20.) In 1998, she married Sameer Baxla, with whom she had three daughters. (Id.) The Baxla family lived in New Delhi, where Ms. Baxla provided childcare and cooking services and Mr. Baxla worked in construction. (Id.) In 2004, Mr. Baxla was murdered. (Id., ¶ 21.) Following his death, Ms. Baxla struggled to find work in order to support her daughters. (Id., ¶ 22.)

         In or around January 2005, Ms. Baxla's was introduced to a woman named Nancy. (Compl., ¶ 23.) Nancy offered to find a job for Ms. Baxla in the United States performing childcare work, which Ms. Baxla accepted. (Id.) Nancy arranged for Ms. Baxla's ticket to travel to the United States, as well as her travel documents, including a two-year visa. (Id., ¶ 24.) Nancy did not tell Ms. Baxla for whom she would be working, nor did she mention that the job would involve housekeeping duties, such as cleaning. (Id.)

         In 2005, Ms. Baxla flew to the United States. (Id., ¶ 25.) The Defendants, two people she had never spoken to or met previously, greeted Ms. Baxla at the airport and transported her to their home in Falls Church, Virginia. (Id., ¶¶ 25-26.) Once Ms. Baxla arrived, she began working for Defendants, providing housekeeping and childcare services.

         Typically, Ms. Baxla worked from around five or six in the morning until eleven or twelve at night, seven days per week. (Compl., ¶¶ 28, 33.) She cleaned the Defendants' home, prepared meals, and provided childcare for the Defendants' daughter. (Id.) Due to her busy schedule, Ms. Baxla alleges that she was sometimes unable to find time to eat until she had finished with her work for the day. (Id., ¶ 29.)

         From 2005 until 2011, Defendants paid Ms. Baxla $350 per month for her labor. (Id., ¶ 31.) In 2011, Defendants increased her pay to $400 per month. (Id.) Ms. Baxla paid for her own expenses, with the exception of food, sending whatever money she had left back to her three children in India.[1] (Id., ¶ 6.)

         In 2006, Ms. Baxla returned to India briefly to care for one of her daughters, who had fallen seriously ill. (Compl., ¶ 34.) After Defendants promised to help Ms. Baxla renew her two-year visa, she returned to the United States to work again in their home. (Id.)

         Throughout her employment with Defendants, Ms. Baxla alleges that they isolated her from the outside world. (Compl., ¶¶ 35, 38.) She was instructed not to talk to anyone and warned that her inability to speak English would raise suspicions and possibly get her arrested or deported. (Id., ¶ 35.) Defendants rarely let her leave their home, especially unaccompanied. (Id., ¶ 36.) Ms. Baxla was also not permitted to have a phone line or a mobile phone in her private room and was required to purchase a calling card to speak to her family. (Id., ¶ 39.) In addition, Ms. Baxla had to rely upon Defendants to arrange for her to transfer whatever money she had saved to her children back in India. (Id., ¶ 39.) Over the years she lived with Defendants, and especially after Ms. Baxla's visa expired in 2007, Defendants' warnings about the possibility of arrest or deportation increased in frequency. (Id., ¶¶ 38, 45.)

         In and around 2014, Manju and John Ekka (the “Ekkas”) learned of Ms. Baxla's situation during a trip to India. (Compl., ¶ 46.) They reached out to her in an attempt to help her leave Defendants' home. (Id.) After Ms. Baxla agreed to accept the Ekkas' help, they contacted a government agency to ensure that Ms. Baxla could escape the home safely. (Id., ¶¶ 48-49.) Ms. Baxla fled Defendants' home on August 24, 2015. (Id., ¶ 50.)

         Plaintiff filed the instant case on September 26, 2016. [Dkt. 1.] The Complaint alleges seven different counts, including: (1) forced labor, in violation of the TVPRA; (2) trafficking with respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor, in violation of the TVPRA; (3) benefitting financially from peonage, slavery, and trafficking in persons, in violation of the TVPRA; (4) conspiracy to violate the TVPRA; (5) failure to pay the federal minimum wage, in violation of the FLSA; (6) unjust enrichment; and (7) false imprisonment. [Id.] On November 2, 2016, Defendant filed this partial motion to dismiss, asking this Court to dismiss Counts II, IV, VI, and VII for failure to state a claim. [Dkt. 13.] Plaintiff filed her opposition on November 14, 2016. [Dkt. 17.] Defendants replied on November 21, 2016. [Dkt. 18.] Oral argument was held on December 15, 2016. This motion is now ripe for disposition.

         II. ...


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