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Muchira v. Al-Rawaf

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 2, 2017

WINFRED MUCHIRA, Plaintiff - Appellant,

          Argued: October 27, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Anthony J. Trenga, District Judge. (1:14-cv-00770-AJT-JFA)


          Gregory H. Lantier, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Neil Harris Koslowe, POTOMAC LAW GROUP, PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          James L. Quarles III, Robert Arcamona, Thomas G. Sprankling, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

          Galia Messika, Luisa Caro, POTOMAC LAW GROUP, PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellees.

          Before WILKINSON and TRAXLER, Circuit Judges, and Bruce H. HENDRICKS, United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina, sitting by designation.

          TRAXLER, Circuit Judge

         Winfred Muchira ("Muchira") appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellees Halah Al-Rawaf ("Halah"), Ibrahim Al-Rashoudi ("Ibrahim"), Fahad Al-Rashoudi ("Fahad"), and Luluh Al-Rashoudi ("Luluh"), on Muchira's claim that the defendants forced her to provide labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 ("TVPA"). See 18 U.S.C. § 1589. We affirm.



         Muchira is from a small village in Kenya. She grew up in poverty and did not progress beyond the eighth grade in her formal education. Nevertheless, she is proficient in reading and writing English. As an adult, Muchira assisted her mother and siblings financially by working as a housemaid for private families and in housekeeping services for a Kenyan hotel. In 2010, Muchira's pastor offered her the opportunity to work as a live-in housemaid for a family in Saudi Arabia at a salary of 1300 Saudi Riyals (approximately $350 U.S. dollars) per month. Muchira was 32 years old at the time. After speaking with Defendant Ibrahim, an adult son of the Saudi family, Muchira accepted the offer.

         In December 2010, Muchira traveled from Kenya to Saudi Arabia, where she signed her employment contract and began her employment. However, she soon became unhappy with her working hours and conditions. She and two other housemaids worked long hours, seven days a week, cooking and cleaning for three separate households of the Saudi family. They were also expected to comply with a number of cultural "house rules" that were traditionally applicable to domestic employees in Saudi Arabia. For example, they were not allowed to sit down or take breaks during work hours. They were not allowed to leave the Saudi family homes unless accompanied by a member of the family, and they were not allowed to speak to or interact with the Saudi family's neighbors. Muchira testified that they would receive verbal reprimands if they violated these rules. The Saudi family also maintained possession of their foreign employees' passports, unless needed for travel or other legal matters. Muchira worked for the Saudi family in Saudi Arabia for approximately seventeen months under these conditions.

         In May 2012, the Saudi family purchased a ticket for Muchira to return to Kenya to visit her sick mother. While there, Muchira decided not to return to her employment in Saudi Arabia. However, Muchira changed her mind about leaving the Saudi family when they offered her the opportunity to work in the United States for the mother of the family, Defendant Halah, while three of Halah's children attended school in this country. Muchira was excited about the opportunity to come to this country and she hoped that her workload would be lighter because she would only be responsible for one household. After receiving verbal assurance from the Saudi family that she would be allowed to attend Christian church services in the United States, Muchira accepted the employment offer and returned to Saudi Arabia.

         On June 7, 2012, Muchira reviewed the terms of her written employment contract with Halah to work as her housemaid in the United States. Muchira's employment would "start[] the same day of [the employee's] arrival [in] the United States upon the request of the employer and end[] when the employee leaves the United States." J.A. 790. Halah represented that she would "not ask [Muchira] to remain on the premises of the Employer's residence or workplace after working hours without compensation, " that she would not "withhold the passport of [the] Employee while in the United States, " and that she would "treat the Employee in a fair and humane way." J.A. 791. Halah also agreed to provide Muchira with all necessary transportation, plus airfare to and from the United States, and to pay her medical costs. Muchira agreed "not [to] accept any other employment with a third party while in the United States." J.A. 792.

         With regard to Muchira's pay, the written employment contract provided for a salary of $1600 per month - $10 per hour for 40 hours per week (Monday through Friday) - plus overtime at the rate of $15 per hour. However, Muchira testified that the Saudi family verbally informed her, before she applied for her visa and traveled to the United States, that she would only be paid $400 per month in cash - more than her prior salary in Saudi Arabia but substantially less than the amount represented in the employment contract - because they would also be paying for her room, board, and clothing. Muchira testified that she agreed to the $400 pay provision. J.A. 357. Muchira also testified that the Saudi family told her that she would have to affirm the pay term in the employment contract if asked. Muchira understood and agreed to do so. According to Muchira, "I had a right to lie" to the Embassy official "[be]cause . . . if I refuse, it could not help me. . . . They [were] going to get another house girl and go with her." J.A. 355.

         Although the Saudi family members and Muchira went together to the United States Embassy in Saudi Arabia to apply for their visas, Muchira was privately interviewed by a United States Embassy official while there. Muchira confirmed to the Embassy official that she was to be employed by the Saudi family pursuant to the terms of the written employment contract, but she was not specifically asked about the pay provision. Muchira was granted a 6-month visa to work for Halah in the United States. Under the terms of Muchira's visa, she was not permitted to seek or engage in any other employment while in the United States. If she left employment with the Saudi family, United States immigration laws and the terms of her visa required her to return to Kenya. Before she left, the Embassy official gave Muchira a pamphlet that included the National Human Trafficking Resource Center ("NHTRC") Hotline number. Muchira was told to call the Hotline if she was mistreated in any way. Muchira took the NHTRC pamphlet with her to the United States, and it remained in her possession the entire time that she worked for the Saudi family.

         Defendant Halah and her three children also obtained 6-month visas to live in the United States while the children attended school. Defendant Luluh (an adult daughter) and Defendant Fahad (an adult son) would attend college in Washington, D.C. A second minor daughter would attend a high school in Virginia. Defendant Ibrahim was involved in the visa application process in Saudi Arabia, and he later visited the family in the United States.


         In July 2012, Muchira, Halah, and the three children traveled from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Muchira testified that she came voluntarily. For the first three months of their stay in the United States, the Saudi family leased a one-bedroom private apartment for Muchira on the fourth floor of an apartment building and a three-bedroom apartment for the family members on a lower floor in the same complex. Muchira was given the key to her apartment and she was not physically restricted in her ability to come and go from it. Muchira testified that she did not know anyone in the United States at the time, but that she did occasionally venture outside unaccompanied to walk and jog in the parking area.[1]

         In October 2012, the Saudi family leased a four-bedroom, four-bathroom home in a 15-home subdivision in Vienna, Virginia, from Nick Nobakht. The home was located across the street from several public places, including a convenience store and a car wash. The Reston Zoo and several Christian churches were also within walking distance. Muchira was provided with a private, furnished bedroom with a walk-in closet and full bathroom on the basement level of the Vienna home, which Nobakht testified he used for guests when he and his wife lived in the home. There was also a media room and kitchenette in the basement. A door near Muchira's bedroom opened directly from the basement to the back yard. The rest of the family bedrooms and the living areas were on the upper floors. The only complaints Muchira voiced about her living conditions were that the Saudi children sometimes kept her awake when they used the media room and that her bedroom was too cold. The main level and basement level of the Vienna home were controlled by a single heating unit. After Muchira continued to complain about the temperature, the Saudi family purchased a space heater for her to use in her bedroom. During the five months that Muchira lived with the family in the Vienna home, Nobakht visited on several occasions and was introduced to Muchira. Nobakht testified that Muchira seemed happy and normal, her living conditions were good, and he observed nothing out of the ordinary. It seemed to him that Muchira was more of a companion for Halah while the children were at school than an employee of the family.

         When they arrived in the United States, Muchira gave Halah her passport, just as she had done in Saudi Arabia. Muchira testified that she did not know where the Saudi family kept the passports, but she did not ask where they were kept or tell the family that she wanted to keep her own passport. Muchira testified that she and Halah did not discuss whether and to what extent the Saudi cultural "house rules" applied in the United States, but Muchira assumed that they still applied and she acted accordingly.

         The Saudi family also obtained a vehicle when they arrived in the United States, but neither Halah nor Muchira were licensed to drive. Fahad took Halah and Muchira to a local bank so that Muchira could open a bank account in her name. Muchira testified that the Saudi family paid for her food, clothing, and entertainment, and she sent most of her $400 in pay to her family in Kenya. The Saudi family would give Muchira her passport and drive her to a Western Union or MoneyGram when she wanted to wire money to her family, after which Muchira would return her passport to the family. Although it is unclear exactly how much money Muchira was actually paid during her eight months of employment in the United States, the wire records indicate that Muchira sent more money to her family than a $400 salary would have allowed. Muchira testified that the Saudi family occasionally gave her extra money when she worked extra hours, such as when the Saudi family had visiting relatives or guests. They also added additional money to the amount she was sending to her family as a gift on one or two occasions, and they would pay the wire transaction costs.

         The Saudi family also provided Muchira with a cell phone with Internet access. Muchira testified that she was given the cell phone so that the Saudi family members could call her when she was in her apartment and, later, in her bedroom in the Vienna home. However, she also used the cell phone to communicate with her family and friends in Kenya as well as with several Kenyan nationals living in the United States, including Rose Ngigi in Alabama, Jane Maturi in Texas, and Pastor Carl Kihato in Boston, who was a friend of Muchira's brother.

         The Saudi family offered to set up a Skype account for Muchira, so that she could video chat with her friends and family, but she declined. Luluh assisted Muchira in setting up a Facebook page, to which Muchira regularly posted status updates and photographs, including posts and photographs documenting her outings and trips with the Saudi family. During the eight months that she worked for the Saudi family in the United States, Muchira was occasionally invited to accompany the family to dinner at restaurants. She was also included in a family outing to a shopping center and skating rink in the District of Columbia, on a trip to Kings Dominion Amusement Park in Doswell, Virginia, and on a family vacation to New York City, where she shopped, went to Central Park, and went on a carriage ride. Muchira testified that the Saudi family would sometimes give her a small amount of extra spending money on these trips. Although Muchira was included in the family activities and admittedly had fun on these outings, she was expected to assist the family as an employee and was occasionally left alone while the Saudi family members did other things.

         Muchira also posted pictures and messages about her walks and jogs, as well as her church attendance. On two occasions, Muchira took a photograph of her passport before returning it to the family, one of which she posted on Facebook. Muchira testified that she carried her cell phone in her pocket while she was working so that she could view posts and chat with her Facebook friends during the day, although she made efforts to hide this from Halah during working hours. All told, Muchira exchanged approximately 15, 000 public and private messages with friends and family during the eight months that she worked for the Saudi family in the United States, the majority of which related how positive and happy she was with her experiences in this country. However, Muchira ...

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