LOS ANGELES – On December 19, 2017, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (“Advancing Justice-LA”) and Jenner & Block LLP (“Jenner & Block”) filed a lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of Edelynne Bergado, a survivor of human trafficking from the Philippines. This is one of many cases of human trafficking that Advancing Justice-LA has seen over the years, all with very similar fact patterns. In this case, the defendants, Marlon and Nelle-Ann Velonza, lured Edelynne to the United States with promises of a well-paying job and a green card. Upon her arrival, however, they confiscated her passport and forced Edelynne into involuntary servitude for almost three years. Edelynne was forced to work over 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for virtually no pay. She suffered extreme verbal abuse and was forbidden from leaving the defendants’ apartment without supervision, prohibited from speaking to anyone outside, and monitored through security cameras when left alone.
“Edelynne was treated like a slave,” said Laboni Hoq, Advancing Justice-LA’s Director of Impact Litigation. “The defendants in this case knowingly benefited from human trafficking. It is illegal to lure someone into the country, keep them effectively imprisoned, and make them work for pennies an hour.”
Originally from a rural town in the Philippines, Edelynne worked at a cosmetics factory operated by relatives of the defendants. The factory operators introduced Edelynne to the Velonzas, who asked her to accompany and care for Mr. Velonza’s elderly mother on a trip to California. Edelynne reluctantly agreed after being promised increased wages and school tuition for her children. When Mr. Velonza’s mother returned to the Philippines a month after their arrival, the Velonzas refused to let Edelynne go back with her.
The Velonzas forced Edelynne to cook and clean for them, their two children, and Mrs. Velonza’s brother Nelson Dominguiano Orqueza, who lives with his family in an adjacent apartment. In addition, the Velonzas required Edelynne to perform work for Etta’s International Cosmetics, a skin bleaching and facial business that Mrs. Velonza runs out of their apartment. Edelynne was regularly used as a guinea pig to test the skincare products made out of household cleaning products. To this day, Edelynne suffers from skin irritations related to her skin being burned.
Because of the defendants’ relentless intimidation and confiscation of her belongings, Edelynne felt compelled to continue working for them despite the inhumane conditions in which she lived and worked. In January 2017, Edelynne escaped her traffickers when she was rescued by the police.
“What happened to Edelynne is not an uncommon scenario for many young women from developing countries seeking a better life. It’s a widespread problem and impacts people from all over the globe. Through Edelynne’s bravery, we can raise public awareness of what trafficking really is,” said Kay Buck, CEO of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (“CAST”). “In cases like Edelynne’s, victims are rarely allowed to leave or interact with anyone outside a home or apartment building. Their everyday lives are under extreme control. These are the signs to look out for.”
“We hope Edelynne’s case sends a message to other trafficking victims that their situation is not hopeless,” said Amy Gallegos, attorney and partner at Jenner & Block. “There are legal remedies and sources of assistance available to them.”
Edelynne Bergado is suing the defendants for violations of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the California Labor Code, and other violations of the law.
“We have seen that many Filipinos in the United States endure human trafficking, deceptive recruitment practices, and other forms of labor exploitation,” said Christopher Lapinig, Registered Legal Services Attorney at Advancing Justice-LA. “It is encouraging when, after escaping their traffickers, survivors like Edelynne stand up and seek justice. We hope that Edelynne’s bravery inspires other survivors to do the same.”
The filed complaint can be found here