Life in the United States was far different from what Mashud Parves Rana was promised. Recruited from his home country of Bangladesh and hired by a high-ranking government employee, Rana expected to enjoy good working conditions and a monthly wage.
He received neither. Instead, Rana was handed an experience wrought with no pay, myriad abuses, and slavery-like conditions.
Coercion Through Empty Promises
In 2012, Rana met Monirul Islam, a Bangleshi diplomat, who hired Rana to work for his family as a domestic worker in the United States. Islam and his wife, Fashima Tashina Prova, promised a good life for Rana. They explained that Rana would stay with them as long as they lived in New York and that they would even renew his visa.
They promised he would enjoy free time every day after work and possess all of the rights and privileges of an American in the United States. Moreover, they assured him his services would be compensated with good working conditions and a monthly wage of $3,000. These promises turned out to be a stark contrast to the reality that Rana faced once he arrived in the United States.
Confrontation with a Dark Reality
Upon arrival in New York, Islam and Prova took Rana’s passport and visa. They confined him to their apartment and made him perform a variety of duties, including cooking all meals from scratch, washing clothes by hand, watching their 11-year-old son, and cleaning the apartment daily. While such duties were not necessarily unreasonable, the conditions in which Rana worked could only be described as “slavery-like.”
Islam and Prova made Rana work from 6:30 A.M. to at least 11:00 P.M every day of the week with no days off. On some days, they demanded he stay up until 3:00 A.M. to cook them a late dinner. However, Rana was not allowed to cook for himself, as he was forced to survive only on expired or leftover food.
Rana was forced to sleep on a mattress on the kitchen floor or in the storage room of the apartment, despite the existence of an available guest room. Islam and Prova verbally abused him, threatened him with violence, and physically abused him on at least two occasions. On one of these occasions, Rana asked Islam if he would ever receive his salary. Islam hit Rana on the back of the head and replied, “I brought you to America. That is enough.”1 Rana never received any payment for his labor.
It was not an easy task for Rana to leave. Islam and Prova warned him that if he ever ventured outside of the apartment, the police would catch him and kill him because of his lack of his identification papers. For months, these psychological torments coerced Rana to stay.
An Escape Toward Justice
On March 2, 2014, Rana was able to escape his captor’s apartment and report his experience to the New York police. On March 21, 2014, he sued Islam and Prova for several claims under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA),2 the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA),3 and New York labor law (NYLL), along with breach of contract. Islam denied that he ever mistreated Rana and tried to dismiss the case. However, the court denied Islam’s motion to dismiss Rana’s complaint.
Throughout the next few months of litigation, Islam and Prova refused to cooperate with the court by failing to comply with discovery orders. After more than a year, the district court sanctioned Islam and Prova by entering a default judgment against them.
The Southern District of New York ordered restitution for Rana based on violations including eighteen months of employment without salary, breach of contract, and emotional distress. The court also ordered punitive damages and liquated damages under both the NYLL and FLSA.4
The Question of Remedies
Rana and Islam appealed the damages award. The Second Circuit found the district court’s damages calculation to be accurate. However, the appellate court decided to resolve a disagreement among the district courts in the Second Circuit by addressing the issue of whether Rana was entitled to liquidated damages under both the NYLL and FLSA.
In cases of under-compensation, it is typical for courts to mandate that employers pay liquidated damages to the harmed party. However, federal courts have yet to agree whether liquidated damages under both a federal and state statute amount to double recovery and should therefore not be awarded together. The district court granted Rana $114,677.64 in liquidated damages under the NYLL and $66,062 in liquidated damages under the FLSA, so the facts were ripe for the Second Circuit to address this question.
The Second Circuit recognized that both state and federal provisions had the same purpose of deterring wage-and-hour violations in a way that compensated the harmed party. If the New York State Legislature intended to provide the harmed party with multiple rewards, the court reasoned, it would have done so expressly. Pairing this reasoning with the fact that double recovery is generally disfavored, the Second Circuit ultimately concluded Rana was not entitled to both remedies. Rather, the Court awarded Rana the larger of the two liquidated damages—the award under the NYLL. This reduced the overall restitution award from $922,597.31 to $856,535.31.
The Bigger Picture
Not all circuit courts choose one source of liquidated damages over the other. The Tenth Circuit, for example, concluded that an award comprising both a state statutory penalty and FLSA liquidated damages did not constitute a double recovery, adhering to the rationale that FLSA damages are compensatory and state law damages cater to a more punitive purpose.5 The district court of Oregon followed the same line of reasoning in holding that a remedy consisting of both a penalty award under state law and liquidated damages under the FLSA was not considered double recovery.6 In light of Rana v. Islam, circuit courts may revisit the issue of compensatory damages due to heavy reliance on Second Circuit precedent.
Depending on the jurisdiction, victims of human trafficking may receive the full extent of liquidated damages under both federal and state law. The attorney must recognize the applicable differences based on jurisdiction and, if confronted with the choice between damages under state or federal law, advocate for the greater award.
- 1 Rana v. Islam, No. 14-CV-1993 (SHS), 2016 WL 2758290, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 12, 2016)
- 2 18 U.S.C. § 1589 et seq.
- 3 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.
- 4 In cases like Rana’s where an employer violates the FLSA or a comparable state law, the court may order liquidated damages—an additional remedy for the employee equal to the amount of unpaid wages withheld from the employee.
- 5Evans v. Loveland Automotive Investments, Inc., 632 Fed. Appx. 496, 498 (10th Cir. 2015)
- 6Mathis v. Housing Auth., 242 F.Supp.2d 777, 790 (D. Or. 2002)