Housekeeper claims she was treated like slave, files lawsuit in federal court

Supervising attorney Nathaniel Norton, client Janet Gonzalez

A housekeeper claiming she was held in slave-like conditions in a rural Dickerson, Md., household for nearly five months without pay filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against the family.

“I felt that I would never live the house and I felt a lot of fear,” said Janet Gonzalez, 55, speaking in  Spanish through an interpreter at a news conference in Rockville yesterday. “I thought I would never see my family again.”

Her lawyer, Maryland Legal Aid supervising attorney Nathaniel Norton (in photo with Gonzalez), said she is a documented worker from Venezuela who has lived in the U.S. for 12 years.  He said Gonzalez is owed about $14,000 in back wages and is entitled to triple that amount. The lawsuit is also seeking punitive damages. Gonzalez also filed a complaint under Montgomery Co.’s domestic worker law.

Exploitation of vulnerable women who speak little English and are desperate for work “isn’t limited to undocumented workers,” Norton said. “We can’t take away the trauma she endured. We can give her her day in court.”

News coverage of the lawsuit included The Daily Record, the Montgomery Co. Gazette, several Washington TV news stations, and Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision.

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