Friday, January 3, 2014

Tough Working Conditions do not Equal Slavery

Sometimes judges have to make tough calls. This is not one of those times.

In Mulqueen v. Energy Force, the plaintiff was assigned to work in a hotel room. She claims she "worked with two younger women in a suite that was disorganized, loud and unprofessional." Worse still, she was assigned work to take home over the weekends and was not compensated for these extra hours.

Okay, we can all probably spot a potential FLSA wage/overtime claim here, right? She claims it was discriminatory and also filed suit under some discrimination statutes. Okay, so far nothing out of the ordinary. And then there's Count 2 of her complaint . . . under 18 U.S.C. §1584 for "Sale into involuntary servitude" under the slavery provisions of the federal criminal code. Ummm, what!?

Yes, §1584 is a statute implementing the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited slavery following the civil war. If Plaintiff's comparison of her job to slavery strikes you as appallingly off-base . . . well, that's because it is.

The Court made quick work of this asinine claim:
In the present case, plaintiff alleges challenging working conditions. Plaintiff's work environment, however, “does not evoke in the court's mind the burdens endured by the African slaves in the cotton fields or kitchens of the antebellum south.” United States v. Bertoli, 994 F.2d 1002, 1022 (3d Cir.1993). Moreover, the general defense against oppressive hours, pay, working conditions or treatment is the right to change employers. Pollock v. Williams, 322 U.S. 4, 17–18, 64 S.Ct. 792, 88 L.Ed. 1095 (1944). Plaintiff never claimed that the defendants physically restrained her or prevented her from leaving work. Rather, she always maintained the right to walk away from defendants' employment. In short, plaintiff has not alleged that her employment with defendants rose to the level of involuntary servitude.
Her claim was dismissed with prejudice.

HT: HR Specialist Pennsylvania Employment Law (Dec. 2013) - brought to my attention by Janine Gismondi.

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