- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - A domestic worker in Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday saying she was often paid less than $1 per hour as she worked up to 100 hours per week.

Rosemary Muthala said she worked as a nanny and housekeeper for Sitto Mfarinya and Susan Kajumoh, of Hamden, from 2001 to 2012, working seven days per week caring for their three children.

Muthala could not prepare food without explicit permission from her employers and sometimes would eat little or nothing, according to the lawsuit. When they ate out, she would eat small items like bread or go without food, the lawsuit alleges.

A man who identified himself as Sitto says he hasn’t seen the lawsuit so he couldn’t comment.

Muthala says she left Malawi, in Africa, in hopes of earning a better living to support her children, but struggled at times to do so. Her employers also are from Malawi.

Rosemary Muthala’s rights as a worker were violated by her employer’s wage theft and harsh working conditions” said Claire Simonich a law student with the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, which is representing Muthala. “We hope the court will help Ms. Muthala vindicate her rights and receive her long overdue wages.”

The lawsuit, which seeks back pay and damages, comes as Connecticut considers legislation that would create a domestic workers bill of rights. The bill, which is the subject of a public hearing Thursday, would ensure that domestic workers receive the minimum wage, overtime, paid time off and a written contract.

“Domestic workers in Connecticut will no longer tolerate the second-class status accorded to them in our state’s labor laws. They ask for the same dignity and respect extended to other workers,” said Meghan Vesel, an organizer with the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Bridgeport, a supporter of the bill.

New York, California and Hawaii have passed similar laws.

Muthala says her employers promised her $600 to $700 per month, still well below the legal minimum wage in Connecticut, but she often received as little as $200 per month. She said she also cared for an elderly family member, cleaned the house, cooked meals, did laundry and cut the grass and shoveled snow.

Muthala developed high blood pressure, but her employers required her to work even when she felt sick, according to the lawsuit. She rarely left the house and her employers became angry when she took time off from work to get her medication, the lawsuit says.

“It’s very sad the way they treated me,” Muthala said in a statement. “The people that I was working for did not treat me the way I deserve. I’m happy that I am able to file this case and will be able to get the money that I was owed.”

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