A group of almost 10,000 au pairs recently won a wage dispute lawsuit filed against U.S. “companies authorized to bring au pairs to the U.S.” According to the lawsuit, a dozen au pairs argued that 15 “companies that bring the workers to the U.S. conspired to keep wages low.”
Au pairs are foreign workers hired to help families with childcare and housework in exchange for room and board. On paper, it seems like a pretty good deal. However, as it turns out, many au pairs don’t always receive their full wages. As a result, lawsuits are sometimes filed, such as one that was recently settled. A group of almost 10,000 au pairs recently won a wage dispute lawsuit filed against U.S. “companies authorized to bring au pairs to the U.S.” According to the lawsuit, a dozen au pairs argued that 15 “companies that bring the workers to the U.S. conspired to keep wages low.” In winning the suit, the group of au pairs, “most of whom are women,” will share the $65.5 million settlement.
The suit was filed in 2014 by Towards Justice on behalf of the au pairs. David Seligman of Towards Justice said:
“This settlement, the hard-fought victory of our clients who fought for years on behalf of about 100,000 fellow au pairs, will be perhaps the largest settlement ever on behalf of minimum wage workers and will finally give au pairs the opportunity to seek higher wages and better working conditions.”
What happened, though? Well, according to the suit, “ families were told to take 40 percent of au pairs’ pay to cover the room and board they are required to provide for au pairs.” For many au pairs, such as Sarah Azuela, that ended up impacting their take-home pay by a substantial amount. Azuela became an au pair when she “saw an ad for the State Department-sponsored program as a college student in Mexico.” In a news interview, she said the “working conditions felt like slavery,” and said, “I don’t wish anyone to experience anything like this.” She added that, while in the program, “she had been subjected to threats of violence during her time in the program.”
Just last year, the State Department reported that more than “20,000 foreign workers participated in the U.S. au pair program.” As part of the program, au pairs are required to be paid at least minimum wage. What au pairs are included in the settlement agreement, though? According to the agreement, au pairs who “came to the U.S. on J-1 visas between January 1, 2009, and October 28, 2018, will have access to the funds via a special website being set up by attorneys to help spread the word about the settlement.”
How did the 15 companies respond to the lawsuit, though? Well, despite the settlement agreement, the companies denied any wrongdoing. However, the companies “pledged to inform au pairs about their legal rights in the future.”