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Court Awards $3.3 Million Default Judgment Against State Dept Couple Accused of Slavery and Rape of Housekeeper

In 2011, Jane Doe, an Ethiopian national in her 30s filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against a State Department employee 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).

The complaint also alleges the rape of Jane Doe by Russell Howard, reportedly an Australian national, and a dependent of employee Linda Howard.

According to the complaint, Linda Howard met and hired Jane Doe during her assignment at the US Embassy in Yemen. Jane Doe was paid $200 a month as a housekeeper and made no allegation of mistreatment while employed in Yemen.  In late 2008, Linda Howard was reportedly reassigned to the US Embassy in Tokyo.  Jane Doe agreed to move to Japan with Linda Howard to continue working as a housekeeper.  Their signed contract reportedly guaranteed $300 a month, time off each week, health insurance and a safe place to live and work.

Among the other allegations made by Jane Doe:

  • She was forced to work more than 80 hours a week for less than a dollar an hour; the exact amount was $0.88 an hour; the minimum hourly wage at the time of Jane Doe’s employment was $6.55 an hour.
  • She was raped and was forced to engaged in sexual acts with Russell Howard in the Howards’ Tokyo residence.
  • She was threatened with deportation from Japan by Mr. Howard
  • The complaint says that after five months Jane Doe fled the Howards’ home and found help at a shelter in Tokyo. The women’s shelter reported the abuse to the US Embassy in Tokyo. While at the shelter Jane Doe met with Diplomatic Security investigators. When the case was filed in October 2011, it includes the following item: “Upon information and belief, the State Department’s investigation is still pending.”
  • At the time the lawsuit was filed, she alleged that while Linda Howard was removed from her posting at the US Embassy in Tokyo, Mrs. Howard remains employed by the State Department.

Some nasty, nasty stuff on this one, read the original complaint here.

The Courthouse News Service which reported this case on September 6 says that Linda Howard is currently an IT manager with the State Department in Washington, D.C.’s citing her profile on the professional-networking website LinkedIn. The profile notes that Howard worked as a “manager” for the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo from 2008 to 2009. Before that, Howard worked for three years, from 2005 – 2008 as “Senior IT Manager, Acting Administrative Management Officer, Acting Human Resources Officer and alternate Financial Officer” at the Embassy in Yemen, according to the profile

The report from LexisNexis® Mealey’s™ Legal News says that when Russell Howard, who is from Australia, failed to respond to Jane 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 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.

“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.”

The Court awarded Jane Doe total damages in the amount of $3,306,468, broken down as follows.

  • $1,250,000 for compensatory emotional distress relating to forced sexual servitude

 

  • $44,500 in compensatory damages for forced labor and trafficking

 

  • $2,000,000 punitive damages “in light of the Howards’ intentional egregious and outrageous conduct”
  • $11,968 for back wages and liquidated award as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act damages under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)

The court documents relating to this case are available here to read (some documents listed need to be purchased before you can read them).  The Court’s opinion dated September 4, 2012 is here in pdf.

 

 

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8 responses

  1. obviously the State Dept takes care of it own even if they are scum bag slavers and rapists…….Ms Howards retirement payment should be directed to the victim and upon Ms Howards capture, she should be immediately put in jail…….no bail – lock up and throw away the key until trial time for RAPE

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    • I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know what recourse is available when defendants like the Howard couple skips the country. I don’t even know if the court can garnish her retirement pay. I’ll update if I know more. The Mrs. was previously posted in Australia and the Mr. is an Australian national. I’ll update if I learn anything more.

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  2. Litigation for damages is one thing, but rape is a criminal offence that should be pursued by a public prosecutor (namely, the state apparatus of — in cases like this — virtually all countries of the world does not allow rape under any circumstances, regardless of possible damages paid to the victim in a litigation).

    So, since this is obviously a litigation, with the money as penalty and no prison sentence, I want to know why the prosecutor has not initiated a criminal procedure, as the territory of US embassy compound in any country is within jurisdiction of the US.

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  3. OMG. Were criminal charges ever filed? Any idea why a DS investigation on a matter such as this would take so long? Could they not find witnesses, or feel there wasn’t enough proof? The court ruling quoted makes it seem as if Ms Hamilton is no longer in the U.S.

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    • There are other documents listed online but not all are accessible. Don’t know if there were criminal charges. The alleged rape happen in Japan in 2008. Between 2008 and the filing of the court case last year, I don’t have any idea what happened in this case. Yes, it looks like the Howards have skipped the US.

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