Winfred Muchira v. Halah Al-Rawaf
AMENDED OPINION filed amending and superseding opinion dated March 2, 2017. Originating case number: 1:14-cv-00770-AJT-JFA. Copies to all parties. [15-2198]
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UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
Plaintiff – Appellant,
HALAH AL-RAWAF; IBRAHIM AL-RASHOUDI; FAHAD AL-RASHOUDI;
Defendants – Appellees.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at
Alexandria. Anthony J. Trenga, District Judge. (1:14-cv-00770-AJT-JFA)
Argued: October 27, 2016
Decided: March 2, 2017
Amended: March 3, 2017
Before WILKINSON and TRAXLER, Circuit Judges, and Bruce H. HENDRICKS,
United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina, sitting by designation.
Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Traxler wrote the opinion, in which Judge
Wilkinson and Judge Hendricks joined.
ARGUED: Gregory H. Lantier, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR
LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Neil Harris Koslowe, POTOMAC LAW
GROUP, PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellees. ON BRIEF: James L. Quarles III,
Robert Arcamona, Thomas G. Sprankling, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE
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AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Galia Messika, Luisa Caro,
POTOMAC LAW GROUP, PLLC, Washington, D.C., for Appellees.
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TRAXLER, Circuit Judge:
Winfred Muchira (“Muchira”) appeals from the district court’s grant of summary
judgment in favor of defendants-appellees Halah Al-Rawaf (“Halah”), Ibrahim AlRashoudi (“Ibrahim”), Fahad Al-Rashoudi (“Fahad”), and Luluh Al-Rashoudi (“Luluh”),
on Muchira’s claim that the defendants forced her to provide labor in violation of the
Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (“TVPA”). See 18 U.S.C. § 1589. We
Muchira is from a small village in Kenya. She grew up in poverty and did not
progress beyond the eighth grade in her formal education. Nevertheless, she is proficient
in reading and writing English. As an adult, Muchira assisted her mother and siblings
financially by working as a housemaid for private families and in housekeeping services
for a Kenyan hotel. In 2010, Muchira’s pastor offered her the opportunity to work as a
live-in housemaid for a family in Saudi Arabia at a salary of 1300 Saudi Riyals
(approximately $350 U.S. dollars) per month. Muchira was 32 years old at the time.
After speaking with Defendant Ibrahim, an adult son of the Saudi family, Muchira
accepted the offer.
In December 2010, Muchira traveled from Kenya to Saudi Arabia, where she
signed her employment contract and began her employment. However, she soon became
unhappy with her working hours and conditions. She and two other housemaids worked
long hours, seven days a week, cooking and cleaning for three separate households of the
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Saudi family. They were also expected to comply with a number of cultural “house
rules” that were traditionally applicable to domestic employees in Saudi Arabia. For
example, they were not allowed to sit down or take breaks during work hours. They were
not allowed to leave the Saudi family homes unless accompanied by a member of the
family, and they were not allowed to speak to or interact with the Saudi family’s
neighbors. Muchira testified that they would receive verbal reprimands if they violated
these rules. The Saudi family also maintained possession of their foreign employees’
passports, unless needed for travel or other legal matters. Muchira worked for the Saudi
family in Saudi Arabia for approximately seventeen months under these conditions.
In May 2012, the Saudi family purchased a ticket for Muchira to return to Kenya
to visit her sick mother. While there, Muchira decided not to return to her employment in
Saudi Arabia. However, Muchira changed her mind about leaving the Saudi family when
they offered her the opportunity to work in the United States for the mother of the family,
Defendant Halah, while three of Halah’s children attended school in this country.
Muchira was excited about the opportunity to come to this country and she hoped that her
workload would be lighter because she would only be responsible for one household.
After receiving verbal assurance from the Saudi family that she would be allowed to
attend Christian church services in the United States, Muchira accepted the employment
offer and returned to Saudi Arabia.
On June 7, 2012, Muchira reviewed the terms of her written employment contract
with Halah to work as her housemaid in the United States. Muchira’s employment would
“start the same day of [the employee’s] arrival [in] the United States upon the request of
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the employer and end when the employee leaves the United States.” J.A. 790. Halah
represented that she would “not ask [Muchira] to remain on the premises of the
Employer’s residence or workplace after working hours without compensation,” that she
would not “withhold the passport of [the] Employee while in the United States,” and that
she would “treat the Employee in a fair and humane way.” J.A. 791. Halah also agreed
to provide Muchira with all necessary transportation, plus airfare to and from the United
States, and to pay her medical costs.
Muchira agreed “not [to] accept any other
employment with a third party while in the United States.” J.A. 792.
With regard to Muchira’s pay, the written employment contract provided for a
salary of $1600 per month - $10 per hour for 40 hours per week (Monday through Friday)
- plus overtime at the rate of $15 per hour. However, Muchira testified that the Saudi
family verbally informed her, before she applied for her visa and traveled to the United
States, that she would only be paid $400 per month in cash – more than her prior salary in
Saudi Arabia but substantially less than the amount represented in the employment
contract – because they would also be paying for her room, board, and clothing. Muchira
testified that she agreed to the $400 pay provision. J.A. 357. Muchira also testified that
the Saudi family told her that she would have to affirm the pay term in the employment
contract if asked. Muchira understood and agreed to do so. According to Muchira, “I
had a right to lie” to the Embassy official “[be]cause . . . if I refuse, it could not help me. .
. . They [were] going to get another house girl and go with her.” J.A. 355.
Although the Saudi family members and Muchira went together to the United
States Embassy in Saudi Arabia to apply for their visas, Muchira was privately
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interviewed by a United States Embassy official while there. Muchira confirmed to the
Embassy official that she was to be employed by the Saudi family pursuant to the terms
of the written employment contract, but she was not specifically asked about the pay
provision. Muchira was granted a 6-month visa to work for Halah in the United States.
Under the terms of Muchira’s visa, she was not permitted to seek or engage in any other
employment while in the United States. If she left employment with the Saudi family,
United States immigration laws and the terms of her visa required her to return to Kenya.
Before she left, the Embassy official gave Muchira a pamphlet that included the National
Human Trafficking Resource Center (“NHTRC”) Hotline number. Muchira was told to
call the Hotline if she was mistreated in any way. Muchira took the NHTRC pamphlet
with her to the United States, and it remained in her possession the entire time that she
worked for the Saudi family.
Defendant Halah and her three children also obtained 6-month visas to live in the
United States while the children attended school. Defendant Luluh (an adult daughter)
and Defendant Fahad (an adult son) would attend college in Washington, D.C. A second
minor daughter would attend a high school in Virginia. Defendant Ibrahim was involved
in the visa application process in Saudi Arabia, and he later visited the family in the
In July 2012, Muchira, Halah, and the three children traveled from Saudi Arabia to
the United States. Muchira testified that she came voluntarily. For the first three months
of their stay in the United States, the Saudi family leased a one-bedroom private
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apartment for Muchira on the fourth floor of an apartment building and a three-bedroom
apartment for the family members on a lower floor in the same complex. Muchira was
given the key to her apartment and she was not physically restricted in her ability to come
and go from it. Muchira testified that she did not know anyone in the United States at the
time, but that she did occasionally venture outside unaccompanied to walk and jog in the
parking area. 1
In October 2012, the Saudi family leased a four-bedroom, four-bathroom home in
a 15-home subdivision in Vienna, Virginia, from Nick Nobakht. The home was located
across the street from several public places, including a convenience store and a car wash.
The Reston Zoo and several Christian churches were also within walking distance.
Muchira was provided with a private, furnished bedroom with a walk-in closet and full
bathroom on the basement level of the Vienna home, which Nobakht testified he used for
guests when he and his wife lived in the home. There was also a media room and
kitchenette in the basement. A door near Muchira’s bedroom opened directly from the
basement to the back yard. The rest of the family bedrooms and the living areas were on
the upper floors. The only complaints Muchira voiced about her living conditions were
that the Saudi children sometimes kept her awake when they used the media room and
that her bedroom was too cold. The main level and basement level of the Vienna home
were controlled by a single heating unit. After Muchira continued to complain about the
For a short time, Fahad lived in the one-bedroom apartment and Muchira was
given a private bedroom in the three-bedroom apartment. However, Muchira and Fahad
switched their living quarters because the Saudi family got up early and Fahad was
responsible for driving himself and his siblings to school.
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temperature, the Saudi family purchased a space heater for her to use in her bedroom.
During the five months that Muchira lived with the family in the Vienna home, Nobakht
visited on several occasions and was introduced to Muchira. Nobakht testified that
Muchira seemed happy and normal, her living conditions were good, and he observed
nothing out of the ordinary. It seemed to him that Muchira was more of a companion for
Halah while the children were at school than an employee of the family.
When they arrived in the United States, Muchira gave Halah her passport, just as
she had done in Saudi Arabia. Muchira testified that she did not know where the Saudi
family kept the passports, but she did not ask where they were kept or tell the family that
she wanted to keep her own passport. Muchira testified that she and Halah did not
discuss whether and to what extent the Saudi cultural “house rules” applied in the United
States, but Muchira assumed that they still applied and she acted accordingly.
The Saudi family also obtained a vehicle when they arrived in the United States,
but neither Halah nor Muchira were licensed to drive. Fahad took Halah and Muchira to
a local bank so that Muchira could open a bank account in her name. Muchira testified
that the Saudi family paid for her food, clothing, and entertainment, and she sent most of
her $400 in pay to her family in Kenya. The Saudi family would give Muchira her
passport and drive her to a Western Union or MoneyGram when she wanted to wire
money to her family, after which Muchira would return her passport to the family.
Although it is unclear exactly how much money Muchira was actually paid during her
eight months of employment in the United States, the wire records indicate that Muchira
sent more money to her family than a $400 salary would have allowed. Muchira testified
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that the Saudi family occasionally gave her extra money when she worked extra hours,
such as when the Saudi family had visiting relatives or guests.
They also added
additional money to the amount she was sending to her family as a gift on one or two
occasions, and they would pay the wire transaction costs.
The Saudi family also provided Muchira with a cell phone with Internet access.
Muchira testified that she was given the cell phone so that the Saudi family members
could call her when she was in her apartment and, later, in her bedroom in the Vienna
home. However, she also used the cell phone to communicate with her family and
friends in Kenya as well as with several Kenyan nationals living in the United States,
including Rose Ngigi in Alabama, Jane Maturi in Texas, and Pastor Carl Kihato in
Boston, who was a friend of Muchira’s brother.
The Saudi family offered to set up a Skype account for Muchira, so that she could
video chat with her friends and family, but she declined. Luluh assisted Muchira in
setting up a Facebook page, to which Muchira regularly posted status updates and
photographs, including posts and photographs documenting her outings and trips with the
Saudi family. During the eight months that she worked for the Saudi family in the United
States, Muchira was occasionally invited to accompany the family to dinner at
restaurants. She was also included in a family outing to a shopping center and skating
rink in the District of Columbia, on a trip to Kings Dominion Amusement Park in
Doswell, Virginia, and on a family vacation to New York City, where she shopped, went
to Central Park, and went on a carriage ride. Muchira testified that the Saudi family
would sometimes give her a small amount of extra spending money on these trips.
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Although Muchira was included in the family activities and admittedly had fun on these
outings, she was expected to assist the family as an employee and was occasionally left
alone while the Saudi family members did other things.
Muchira also posted pictures and messages about her walks and jogs, as well as
her church attendance. On two occasions, Muchira took a photograph of her passport
before returning it to the family, one of which she posted on Facebook. Muchira testified
that she carried her cell phone in her pocket while she was working so that she could
view posts and chat with her Facebook friends during the day, although she made efforts
to hide this from Halah during working hours.
All told, Muchira exchanged
approximately 15,000 public and private messages with friends and family during the
eight months that she worked for the Saudi family in the United States, the majority of
which related how positive and happy she was with her experiences in this country.
However, Muchira claims that many of her posts and messages were lies and fabrication
on her part, designed to impress her friends and family and to hide her disappointment
with her employment situation in the United States.
Although Muchira had hoped otherwise, her working hours and conditions were
only somewhat better than what she had experienced as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia.
Muchira had only one family home and four family members to attend to in the United
States on a regular basis, but she did not have the assistance of the other two housemaids
employed by the family in Saudi Arabia. As in Saudi Arabia, Muchira also did not have
a specific schedule or set working hours. She would usually awake at 6:30 or 7:00 in the
morning, shower and dress in her uniform, and begin her workday. Because Halah’s
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three children were in school during the week, Halah and Muchira were alone in the
home for most of Muchira’s work hours. Muchira’s primary job duties were to clean the
home, make the beds, do the laundry and ironing, and take out the trash.
accompanied Halah to grocery shop and brought in the shopping bags.
Muchira was not expected to cook for the family, she helped Halah prepare dinner, and
she made sandwiches for the children when asked. Muchira would also make tea for
Halah throughout the day and would occasionally sit with Halah outside while Halah
smoked and drank her tea. Although Muchira’s testimony was largely nonspecific, it
appears that she generally worked or was subject to be asked to assist the family from
approximately 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., seven days a week, but it varied from day to
day and “sometimes [the family] went [on] vacation.” J.A. 288. Muchira was also
allowed to take small work breaks during the day, including a lunch break.
Although Muchira admitted that she went out alone when she lived in her
apartment, and was occasionally left alone by the family in public during their outings,
Muchira testified that she never left the Vienna house unaccompanied by a family
member and that her Facebook posts to the contrary were untrue. Muchira testified that
she “knew the rules in the house as a housemaid” from her time in Saudi Arabia, and she
“understood” that these restrictions continued to apply in the United States. J.A. 293-94.
According to Muchira, even if she had asked to go out unaccompanied, she “did not
know where to go.” J.A. 320. Muchira also testified that the Vienna home had an alarm
system that was set at night and when the family was away, but not during the day.
Muchira testified that the “alarm was like their lock,” but admitted that she never asked
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for the alarm code and that the doors were never locked from the inside so as to keep her
from walking out. J.A. 324.
Muchira was particularly disappointed because the Saudi family was failing to
abide by their verbal promise to allow her to attend Christian church services in the
United States. Muchira admits that Luluh helped her find churches within walking
distance that Muchira could attend, but she testified that the Saudi family would offer
excuses every Sunday morning as to why they would not take her to services. Although
Muchira represented otherwise in her Facebook posts and during her conversations with
her friends, Muchira testified that these were also lies on her part and that she never
attended church services in the United States.
Finally, Muchira testified that Halah and Luluh continued to verbally reprimand or
abuse her when she made mistakes in her job. Muchira’s testimony in support of this
claim, however, was largely nonspecific. Muchira related two occasions when Halah
verbally reprimanded her for talking on the phone when she was supposed to be working.
On one of these occasions, Halah “yell[ed]” at her for “leaving . . . things in the
bathroom” and “not collecting the towel that you are using because you’re always on
[the] phone,” and Muchira “yelled [back] at her and could ask her, [‘A]m I not supposed
to talk to my family[?’]” J.A. 278. When Muchira was specifically asked to recount “the
worst thing” that the Saudi family “ever did to [her] while [she was] living in the United
States,” Muchira responded that they “ma[de] [her] overwork while I was alone,”
“den[ied] my rights to my contract salary,” and “den[ied] me my contract agreement that
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they [were] going to be taking me to church.” J.A. 286. 2 Muchira admitted, however,
that she never asked the family to reduce her work hours and never asked the family if
she could walk to the nearby church services alone. She also never asked to terminate
her employment and return home to Kenya, and she was never threatened by the Saudi
family with any adverse consequences if she tried to leave.
In December 2012, the Saudi family retained the services of a United States law
firm to extend their original 6-month visas so that they could remain in the United States
through the spring semester of 2013. Muchira signed a new employment contract with
Halah to continue her employment in the United States. The contract maintained the
$1600-per-month pay provision, and set forth specific working hours from 10:00 a.m. to
6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The contract provided that it was “understood . . .
that Ms. Muchira w[ould] reside on the premises” of the Vienna home with the family,
and that she would “be provided with a private room and board at no cost.” J.A. 951.
However, Muchira was “free to leave the premises at all other times except that she may
work overtime if paid at $40 per hour.” J.A. 951. The employer remained “responsible
for her medical bills, clothing, housing and transportation to enter the United States,
during her visit in the United State[s] and her transportation to return to Saudi Arabia.”
Muchira also complained that the Saudi family refused to take her to the hospital
emergency room when she felt sick, and that Halah would instead tell her to wait for
Fahad to come home to give her medication. There is some indication in the record that
Fahad was a physician educated in Saudi Arabia. But in any event, Muchira was unable
to specify a single, specific occasion when she needed to go to the hospital and was
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J.A. 951. Muchira testified that she signed this contract as well, but did not read it. She
testified that the Saudi family told her to sign the papers, and she “thought all was well.”
In January 2013, the attorney filed an application for an extension of Muchira’s
nonimmigrant status to June 27, 2013. Muchira’s signed affidavit was attached, stating
that Halah had “requested an extension of [Muchira’s] stay to care [for Halah’s]
daughter” until “the end of the school year,” and that they “w[ould] return to Saudi
Arabia when [the] daughter finishes school.” J.A. 894. Muchira represented that she
“ha[d] no intention to stay in the United States and . . . every intention to abide by the
U.S. immigration laws.” J.A. 894. A flight itinerary, dated December 24, 2012, was also
attached, documenting that Muchira had a return flight to Saudi Arabia on June 8, 2013.
Muchira testified that she did not sign the visa extension documents, but she
admits that the Saudi family informed her of their plans to extend their visas to June
2013, and to return to Saudi Arabia at that time. Muchira testified that the Saudi family
did not “force [her] to stay” in the United States after her initial 6-month visa expired, but
she complains that they effectively did so by “prolong[ing] [her] staying with them in
America” without her consent. J.A. 220. However, Muchira also testified that, when she
became aware of the plan to extend their visas and return to Saudi Arabia in June, she
“talked to [Halah] and . . . refused to go to Saudi Arabia” directly from the United States,
J.A. 728 (emphasis added), and that Halah “agreed [that she could] go to Kenya and stay .
. . with [her] family” instead. J.A. 220. The Saudi family then purchased Muchira an
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airline ticket for her to travel directly to Kenya on May 22, 2013, and a follow-up ticket
for her to travel from Kenya to Saudi Arabia on June 7, 2013.
In mid-March, 2013, Muchira sent a Facebook message informing a Kenyan
friend that she would be returning to Kenya on May 22. See J.A. 728 (Muchira’s
testimony that “after negotiating with the family [in] December,” she sent a message to a
Facebook friend that she “would be returning to Kenya on May 22nd”). Muchira has
never claimed that she informed Halah that she wanted to terminate her employment and
return to Kenya immediately, or that she wanted to return to Kenya when her original 6month visa expired.
By December 2012, Muchira had become acquainted with Rose Ngigi, a Kenyan
national from her village who was living in Alabama. Ngigi obtained Muchira’s cell
phone number from a mutual friend of their families in Kenya, and she and Muchira
began to converse regularly. Muchira complained to Ngigi about her long work hours,
restrictive living conditions, and pay discrepancy, and she told Ngigi that she wanted to
obtain a different job in the United States. Ngigi encouraged Muchira to call the NHTRC
Hotline number for assistance.
On March 13, 2013, approximately two months before her scheduled departure to
Kenya, Muchira called the Hotline number. Over the course of several telephone calls,
Muchira informed the Hotline operator that she had agreed to come to the United States
to work as a domestic employee for a Saudi Arabian family, that she was not being
physically abused or threatened, and that she did “not wish to report her employers as she
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d[id] not feel that they [we]re mistreating her.” J.A. 954. However, she complained that
she “was required to do a lot of work” and that she was only being paid $400 per month
instead of the $1600 per month that was provided for in her employment contract. J.A.
954. Muchira also told the Hotline operator that the family was “in control of her
documents.” J.A. 954. Muchira informed the Hotline operator that the Saudi family
would be returning to Saudi Arabia in May 2013, and she would “either have to work for
them or return to Kenya.” J.A. 954. She told the operator that she “would like to get a
new job” and leave her current employment when the Saudi family left in May. J.A. 954.
She also requested assistance to relocate to Alabama (where Ngigi lived). The Hotline
operator explained that the NHTRC could not “assist [her] in finding a job,” but could
“provide referrals that [could] potentially assist her in understanding her rights and seeing
what her options are.”
The Hotline operator took Muchira’s contact
information and later provided her with several such referrals. Muchira does not deny
that she told the Hotline operator that she wanted to stay in the United States and get a
different job, but she testified that this was not the main purpose of her call. She wanted
to “escape” so that she would not have to continue working for the family in Saudi
Arabia or in the United States. 3 J.A. 958.
According to the Hotline records, Muchira told them that “she is not forced to
stay” with the family, “but she does not want to stay with them.” J.A. 958. She told
them that she “will be forced to leave with [the family] to go to Kenya . . . and does not
want to go.” J.A. 958. In other words, she “want[ed] to escape,” but remain in the
United States. J.A. 958.
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On March 29, 2013, Muchira informed the Hotline operator that the Saudi family
was out of town and that she was ready to leave, but that the Saudi family had her
passport and she did not know how to disable the home alarm system. The Fairfax
County police department was dispatched to assist Muchira. After some delay and
assurances that she would not be arrested, Muchira walked out of the front door of the
Vienna residence with her suitcases and triggered the house alarm. Muchira testified that
she had not contacted the Hotline earlier because she was “scared” that the family would
“get upset.” J.A. 366. When asked what she thought “would happen if they got upset,”
however, Muchira testified that she had “no good reason” or “good answer for that.” J.A.
The Saudi family unsuccessfully attempted to contact Muchira via her cell phone
when they were notified of the alarm signal, but Muchira had been instructed not to
answer. The family also contacted Nobakht to check on her. When they returned home,
the Saudi family contacted local hospitals and the police. They told the police that their
alarm had been triggered, that Muchira was missing, and that they were “afraid
something may have happened to her.” J.A. 817. The police informed the Saudi family
that that they could not file a missing-persons report because there was no reason to
believe that Muchira was in danger, but the Saudi family was not told of the police
department’s involvement in her leaving the home. Luluh also attempted to contact
Muchira by Facebook, but got no response. J.A. 914 (“Hey [W]innie how are you?
Hope everything is ok? We are very worried please call us.”). There is no evidence that
the Saudi family made an effort to intimidate Muchira or coerce her to return. When the
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Saudi family learned that Muchira was safe and had left their employment, they delivered
Muchira’s passport to the Kenyan Embassy.
After leaving the Saudi family’s home, Muchira was interviewed by officials with
the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, an
Assistant United States Attorney, and the Fairfax County police officer who had assisted
Muchira, in connection with a joint investigation of Halah for “Visa Fraud,” in violation
of 18 U.S.C. § 1546. During the interview, Muchira confirmed that she “change[d] her
mind about leaving the family” when she was in Kenya, and that she voluntarily returned
to Saudi Arabia when she was offered the opportunity to work for Halah in the United
States. J.A. 182. Muchira also confirmed that “Ibrahim told her . . . to tell the U.S.
Embassy that she would be earning $1600” per month, but that “she agreed to . . .
receiving the $400 [per] month” in pay before she came to the United States “because she
[would be] getting a good bedroom and bathroom” as well. J.A. 182. Muchira was
granted a “T-Visa,” which allowed her to remain and work in the United States while the
investigation was ongoing. See 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)(I).
On June 23, 2014, Muchira brought this action against Halah and her three adult
children (Ibrahim, Fahad and Luluh), alleging six claims of involuntary servitude and
illegal trafficking under the TVPA. Specifically, Muchira alleged that she was a victim
of: (1) involuntary servitude, in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United
States Constitution and 18 U.S.C. § 1584; (2) trafficking with respect to peonage, slavery,
involuntary servitude, or forced labor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1590; (3) forced labor,
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in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1589; (4) involuntary servitude in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
1584; (5) unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of trafficking,
peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1592;
and (6) benefitting financially from trafficking in persons, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§
Muchira brought an additional claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 206(f)(1), alleging that the Saudi family failed to pay her the legal
minimum wage for employees in domestic service, and four claims under Virginia state
law for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unjust
enrichment, and civil conspiracy to accomplish human trafficking, peonage, and unjust
enrichment or to benefit financially from Muchira’s services through these unlawful
means. The Saudi family denied the material factual allegations set forth in Muchira’s
complaint, including, but not limited to, Muchira’s claims that she was prohibited from
leaving the Saudi home unaccompanied by a family member, that she was paid less than
the $1600 provided for in the employment contracts, and that she was verbally abused
while in their employ.
Pursuant to the TVPA’s mandatory stay provision, 18 U.S.C. § 1595(b), the
district court stayed Muchira’s civil action pending resolution of the criminal
investigation. The stay was lifted on February 6, 2015, after the Department of Justice
confirmed that it had closed its investigation and would not be initiating a criminal
prosecution against the defendants.
Following discovery, the Saudi family sought
summary judgment on all of Muchira’s claims with the exception of her FLSA wage
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claim, acknowledging that there was a material dispute of fact as to Muchira’s actual
working hours and pay.
In April 2015, the district court granted summary judgment to the Saudi family on
all of Muchira’s trafficking and involuntary servitude claims, and granted summary
judgment on her state law claims for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of
emotional distress, and civil conspiracy insofar as that claim was predicated upon her
trafficking and involuntary servitude allegations. Muchira’s remaining FLSA claim and
her state law claims for unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy to unjustly enrich -- all of
which related to her allegation that the Saudi family had unlawfully withheld wages to
which she was entitled under the terms of her employment contract and the minimum
wage laws -- were subsequently settled by the parties.
On appeal, Muchira challenges only the district court’s grant of summary
judgment on her claims that she was a victim of “forced labor” in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
1589. “We review the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the
facts and the reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party.” Bonds v. Leavitt, 629 F.3d 369, 380 (4th Cir. 2011). Summary
judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a). To defeat a properly filed motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party
must set forth specific facts that go beyond the “mere existence of a scintilla of
evidence.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Conclusory
allegations and speculation will not suffice. See Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co.,
Pg: 21 of 37
312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002). “[T]here must be evidence on which the jury could
reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. 4
Under the forced labor provision of the TVPA, “[w]hoever knowingly provides or
obtains the labor or services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of, the
following means,” shall be guilty of a crime:
(1) by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of
physical restraint to that person or another person;
(2) by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm to that person or
(3) by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or
(4) by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to
believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that
person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint.
As noted by the district court, the record in this case is rife with materially
conflicting statements by or attributed to Muchira. For example, Muchira contradicted
Ngigi’s affidavit in several important respects, including whether she had ever attended
church services in the United States. Ngigi testified that Muchira told her that the Saudi
family allowed her to go to church once or twice, and then stopped letting her go.
Muchira testified that she was never allowed to go to church and that she had lied to
Ngigi when she said otherwise. Muchira also contradicted the contemporaneously
prepared Hotline records that attributed certain statements to Muchira about her work
conditions and her ability to come and go from the Saudi family home. And, as we have
noted above, Muchira testified that many of her Facebook posts and messages, also
pertaining to her church attendance and freedom in the United States, were lies on her
part. The greatest difficulty presented by the summary judgment record, however,
involves serious inconsistencies that exist between a Declaration that Muchira signed in
support of her application for her T-Visa in June 2014 (but which the record indicates she
may not have read before signing it), and her deposition testimony in January and
February of 2015. Because the Declaration preceded her deposition testimony, we rely
upon Muchira’s testimony.
Pg: 22 of 37
18 U.S.C. § 1589(a). Section 1589 was “passed to implement the Thirteenth Amendment
against slavery or involuntary servitude.” United States v. Toviave, 761 F.3d 623, 629
(6th Cir. 2014). “Congress intended to reach cases in which persons are held in a
condition of servitude through nonviolent coercion,” as well as through “physical or legal
United States v. Dann, 652 F.3d 1160, 1169 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal
quotation marks omitted); see also United States v. Calimlim, 538 F.3d 706, 714 (7th Cir.
2008) (“Section 1589 is not written in terms limited to overt physical coercion, and we
know that when Congress amended the statute it expanded the definition of involuntary
servitude to include nonphysical forms of coercion.”). The TVPA is primarily a criminal
statute, but “[a]n individual who is a victim of a [trafficking or involuntary servitude]
violation may [also] bring a civil action against the perpetrator” for “damages and
reasonable attorneys fees.” 18 U.S.C. § 1595.
On appeal, Muchira claims that she has presented sufficient evidence upon which
a jury could find that the Saudi family knowingly obtained her labor and services “by
means of serious harm,” in violation of § 1589(a)(2), and “by means of the abuse or
threatened abuse of law or legal process,” in violation of § 1589(a)(3). Drawing all
reasonable inferences in favor of Muchira, we agree with the district court’s
determination that Muchira’s evidence is insufficient to satisfy the requirements of the
forced labor statute and that the Saudi family was entitled to summary judgment as a
matter of law.
Pg: 23 of 37
We begin with Muchira’s claim that she has presented sufficient evidence to create
a genuine issue of fact that the Saudi family “knowingly . . obtain[ed] [her] labor or
services” in the United States “by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm.” 18
U.S.C. § 1589(a)(2).
Serious harm, for purposes of § 1589(a)(2), is defined as:
any harm, whether physical or nonphysical, including psychological,
financial, or reputational harm, that is sufficiently serious, under all the
surrounding circumstances, to compel a reasonable person of the same
background and in the same circumstances to perform or to continue
performing labor or services in order to avoid incurring that harm.
18 U.S.C. § 1589(c)(2) (emphasis added). Section 1589 is “intended to address serious
trafficking, or cases where traffickers threaten harm to third persons, restrain their victims
without physical violence or injury, or threaten dire consequences by means other than
overt violence.” Dann, 652 F.3d at 1170 (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks
omitted). The harm or threat of harm, “considered from the vantage point of a reasonable
person in the place of the victim, must be ‘sufficiently serious’ to compel that person to
remain” in her condition of servitude when she otherwise would have left. Id. (emphasis
added); see also United States v. Kalu, 791 F.3d 1194, 1212 (10th Cir. 2015) (holding
that jury was properly instructed “to consider whether as a result of [defendant’s actions
and threats], the [victim] continued to provide labor or services where, if [defendant] had
not resorted to these unlawful means, the person would have declined to perform
additional labor or services” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Pg: 24 of 37
In addition, “[s]ection 1589 contains an express scienter requirement.” Calimlim,
538 F.3d at 711. There must be evidence from which the jury could find “that the
employer intended to cause the victim to believe that she would suffer serious harm-from the vantage point of the victim--if she did not continue to work.” Dann, 652 F.3d at
1170 (emphasis added). “The linchpin of the serious harm analysis under § 1589 is not
just that serious harm was threatened but that the employer intended the victim to believe
that such harm would befall her” if she left her employment. Id.
When considering whether an employer’s conduct was sufficiently serious to
coerce the victim to provide labor or services against her will, we must also “consider the
particular vulnerabilities of a person in the victim’s position.” United States v. Rivera,
799 F.3d 180, 186 (2d Cir. 2015). But “[t]he correct standard is a hybrid.” Id. It also
requires that the victim’s “acquiescence be objectively reasonable under the
circumstances.” Id. at 186-87 (emphasis added). “The test of undue pressure is an
objective one, asking how a reasonable employee would have behaved.” United States v.
Bradley, 390 F.3d 145, 153 (1st Cir. 2004), vacated on other grounds, 545 U.S. 1101
(2005). “[T]o rely upon some hidden emotional flaw or weakness unknown to the
employer would raise various problems (e.g., scienter).
But . . . known objective
conditions that make the victim especially vulnerable to pressure (such as youth or
immigration status) bear on whether the employee’s labor was obtained by forbidden
means.” Id. (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted).
Typically, therefore, “forced labor” situations involve circumstances such as
squalid or otherwise intolerable living conditions, extreme isolation (from family and the
Pg: 25 of 37
outside world), threats of inflicting harm upon the victim or others (including threats of
legal process such as arrest or deportation), and exploitation of the victim’s lack of
education and familiarity with the English language, all of which are “used to prevent
[vulnerable] victims from leaving and to keep them bound to their captors.” United
States v. Callahan, 801 F.3d 606, 619 (6th Cir. 2015); see, e.g., Cruz v. Maypa, 773 F.3d
138, 146 (4th Cir. 2014) (reversing district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s claims under
the TVPA as time-barred under Rule 12(b)(6), where plaintiff, who spoke limited
English, “alleged that the defendants confiscated her passport, isolated her from other
people, monitored her communications, and threatened that she would be imprisoned and
deported if she tried to escape.”); Rivera, 799 F.3d at 183 (affirming conviction where
defendant lured undocumented aliens to the United States with the promise of a decent
salary and free transportation to work as waitresses in the defendants’ bars, but later
subjected them to a “reality [that] was very different”; defendants “threatened the victims
with violence and deportation if they spoke to the authorities or quit, forced them to drink
alcohol until they were intoxicated, required them to strip, and compelled them to be
fondled [and] groped by customers, and to have sex with customers”); Kalu, 791 F.3d at
1197-99 (affirming conviction where defendant tricked foreign nationals into coming to
the United States to work as specialized nurse instructors and supervisors at a university,
charged them a fee for this service, but later “required them to work as non-specialized
laborers in nursing homes, retained a portion of their wages for personal profit, and
threatened them with deportation and financial ruin if they did not comply with his
demands”); United States v. Campbell, 770 F.3d 556, 559 (7th Cir. 2014) (defendant
Pg: 26 of 37
convicted of forced labor where he enticed young women to work for him as masseuses,
with no requirement that they perform sexual services, by gaining their trust and offering
them comfortable places to live, and subsequently required them to break all ties with
their families and friends, “confiscated their identification [and] immigration
documents,” “renamed them, branded them with tattoos, abused them, and forced them to
engage in prostitution”); Dann, 652 F.3d at 1163-69 (affirming conviction where
employer brought non-English-speaking employee to the United States under a
fraudulently obtained visa, confiscated her passport, forbade her from leaving the house
or speaking to anyone outside the home, never paid her despite promise to do so prior to
bringing her to the United States, forced her to sleep on the floor in a corner of the living
room, rationed her food, falsely accused her of stealing, claimed that she was in
substantial debt to the employer, threatened her with her illegal status, threatened to
report her to authorities, and told her she had no rights in the United States); United
States v. Sabhnani, 599 F.3d 215, 224-32 (2d Cir. 2010) (affirming forced labor
convictions where victims, who did not speak English and did not know how to drive or
use a telephone, were, among other things, brought into the United States illegally, forced
to sleep on the floor, dressed in rags, provided inadequate food, and threatened with
arrest); see also Toviave, 761 F.3d at 629-30 (discussing and comparing cases).
Muchira admits that she came to the United States willingly. The Saudi family
never physically abused her, nor did they ever threaten her or her loved ones with
They never physically restrained or impeded her from leaving her
Pg: 27 of 37
They never threatened her with arrest, deportation, adverse
immigration consequences, or other legal consequences if she left their employment.
Rather, Muchira’s “forced labor” claim is based solely upon her assertion that the Saudi
cultural “house rules,” coupled with her long work hours and verbal reprimands, caused
her to experience serious psychological harm in the form of depression, acute stress, and
panic attacks, and that this evidence is sufficient to prove a “forced labor” violation by
means of serious psychological harm within the meaning of § 1589. We disagree.
Muchira misapprehends the scope of the forced labor statute. “[N]ot all bad
employer-employee relationships or even bad employer-immigrant . . . relationships will
constitute forced labor.” Dann, 652 F.3d at 1170; cf. Toviave, 761 F.3d at 629 (noting
that “we should not--without a clear expression of Congressional intent--transform a
statute passed to implement the Thirteenth Amendment against slavery or involuntary
servitude into one that generally makes it a crime for a person in loco parentis to require
household chores, or makes child abuse a federal crime”); Bradley, 390 F.3d at 155
(noting distinction between “merely abusive employers” and employers who
“deliberately sought to compel forced labor”). And Muchira cannot establish a forced
labor claim by presenting evidence that her employment environment caused her to
experience psychological harm. Rather, Muchira must present sufficient evidence upon
which a jury could reasonably conclude that the Saudi family knowingly or intentionally
engaged in actions or made threats that were sufficiently serious to compel a reasonable
person in Muchira’s position to remain in the Saudi family’s employ, against her will and
in order to avoid such threats of harm, when she otherwise would have left. She has
Pg: 28 of 37
failed to do so. The record does not suggest that the Saudi family knowingly forced
Muchira to provide her labor or services by means of serious harm or threats of serious
harm, that she continued to labor in order to avoid physical or psychological harm, or that
the conditions of her employment were such that she reasonably believed that she had no
viable “exit option.” Calimlim, 538 F.3d at 712.
Muchira was not an especially vulnerable victim.
She was not young,
inexperienced, or brought to this country illegally. Muchira was 32 years old when she
began her employment with the Saudi family in Saudi Arabia and an experienced
household employee, having worked for other families and for a hotel in Kenya under
cultural rules and restrictions similar to those that exist in Saudi Arabia. Prior to her
agreeing to come to the United States, Muchira had worked for the Saudi family for
seventeen months in Saudi Arabia, and she had made the voluntary decision to terminate
her employment relationship with the Saudi family and remain in Kenya, apparently
without sufficient fear of adverse consequences that would have compelled her to return
to Saudi Arabia. She was well aware of the Saudi cultural rules and expectations related
to her employment. However, when the Saudi family asked Muchira to continue her
employment with them in the United States, Muchira changed her mind and agreed to
continue working for the family in this country. Muchira is also proficient in reading and
writing English. She was able to read the contract for her employment in the United
States, she reviewed the terms of the contract with the family before signing it, and she
came to the United States voluntarily with full knowledge of the modified, verbal pay
Pg: 29 of 37
During the eight months that Muchira lived and worked for the Saudi family in the
United States, she was not subjected to squalid or otherwise intolerable living conditions,
so as to reasonably lead her to believe that she was effectively imprisoned in her
Muchira was initially provided with a private, one-bedroom
apartment, with unfettered ability to come and go from her apartment. When the family
moved to the Vienna home three months later, Muchira returned to her status as a live-in
housemaid, but she was provided with a comfortable, private bedroom on a separate floor
from the family with a nearby door that led directly outside. Both of the Saudi homes in
the United States were urban in nature, and Muchira had an unobstructed ability to walk
away at any time, and to any number of close-by public places, including several
Christian churches. The Vienna home was equipped with an alarm system when the
Saudi family leased it. However, there is no evidence (beyond Muchira’s conclusory
allegation) that the Saudi family ever set the alarm as a means of imprisonment, instead
of as a means of security. Muchira testified that she was not given the alarm code, but
neither did she ask for it. And, in any event, the alarm was not set during the day, when
she and Halah were usually home alone. Thus, Muchira had innumerable opportunities
to walk out of the Saudi home without triggering the alarm.
With regard to the Saudi “house rules,” Muchira worked under these rules for
seventeen months in Saudi Arabia and, by her own admission, there was no discussion
and no stated expectation that they would or would not continue to apply in this country.
Even if they did, it is clear that adherence to these cultural rules did not result in the type
of “extreme isolation” that would lead a reasonable person in Muchira’s situation to
Pg: 30 of 37
believe that she was psychologically imprisoned in a forced-labor situation. Muchira was
frequently included in family outings and trips. She had virtually unfettered access to a
private cell phone and to the Internet, provided by the Saudi family, and she had
substantial opportunity to use these forms of communication in the privacy of her living
quarters. The Saudi family also assisted Muchira in setting up her Facebook account, and
they did not attempt to prohibit her from using social media as an additional means to
communicate with her friends and family, except when it interfered with Muchira’s
performance of her job duties. By providing Muchira with a cell phone with Internet
access, the Saudi family also opened the door for Muchira to educate herself in
And, of course, Muchira was at all times in possession of the
NHTRC pamphlet and Hotline number, and she was told by the Embassy official in
Saudi Arabia that she should call the Hotline number if she felt mistreated at any time.
Yet she did not seek to leave her employment situation until she was weeks away from
leaving the United States and returning to her home in Kenya.
In the end, Muchira has presented evidence that the conditions of her employment
were only somewhat better than those that she had labored under in Saudi Arabia, that
she had hoped for a different experience in the United States, and that she came to realize
that her pay and hours violated the wage standards in this country. Apparently, Muchira
may also have begun to view the Saudi cultural rules to be oppressive and archaic, and
she desired to take advantage of the other opportunities that this country could provide.
See J.A. 669 (Muchira’s testimony that she “learn[ed] that in America there [are]
opportunities like [the] chance to go back to school and continue with my education,
Pg: 31 of 37
which I believe when I go to Kenya, at my age I’m not able to . . . go back to education”).
But, as the district court noted, “[w]hile the ‘house rules’ may have made [Muchira’s] life
more onerous and less pleasant than it otherwise might have been, the evidence is
insufficient to establish that those ‘house rules’ ever prevented [Muchira] from doing
what she ultimately did do – terminate her employment” and walk away. J.A. 1048; see
Headley v. Church of Scientology Int’l, 687 F.3d 1173, 1177 (9th Cir. 2012) (rejecting
forced labor claims where the alleged victims were physically able to walk away at any
time and successfully did so “the first time [they] tried”).
Finally, even if there were sufficient evidence upon which a jury could conclude
that the “house rules” and other employment conditions were “sufficiently serious” to
cause Muchira to reasonably believe that she could not terminate her employment and
return to Kenya, there is no evidence that the Saudi family knowingly subjected Muchira
to those conditions as a means to coerce her into staying when she otherwise would have
left. According to Muchira’s own testimony, the Saudi family asked her if she would like
to continue to work for the family in the United States, while she was in Kenya and
outside of their control, and they employed no means of force or threats to bring her here.
They never discussed the continued applicability of the cultural rules in the United States,
and Muchira never asked to return to Saudi Arabia or Kenya. In short, the employment
relationship was for the most part unchanged from what it had been in Saudi Arabia, both
from the standpoint of the Saudi family and Muchira.
Accordingly, we agree that Muchira failed to present sufficient evidence to
demonstrate that the Saudi family knowingly coerced her into providing labor and
Pg: 32 of 37
services for them in the United States by subjecting her to harm “that [was] sufficiently
serious, under all the surrounding circumstances, to compel a reasonable person of the
same background and in the same circumstances [as Muchira] to continue performing
labor or services in order to avoid incurring that harm.” 18 U.S.C. § 1589(c). Muchira
has presented evidence that she suffered from depression, stress, and other psychological
maladies related to her “bad employer-immigrant” relationship. Dann, 652 F.3d at 1170.
She has presented evidence that she did not want to return to Saudi Arabia with the
family, nor did she want to return to her home in Kenya. However, she has failed to
present sufficient evidence that the Saudi family forced her to remain in their employ
against her will, by means of physical or psychological coercion, when she otherwise
would have left and returned home to Kenya as she had previously done in Saudi Arabia.
We likewise reject Muchira’s claims that she has presented sufficient evidence
that the Saudi family knowingly coerced her into providing her labor and services by “by
means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process.” 18 U.S.C. § 1589(a)(3).
Muchira argues that the Saudi family violated this portion of the forced labor statute by
“coach[ing]” her to lie to the immigration officials about the $1600 pay provision in her
employment contract. J.A. 540.
Again, Muchira misapprehends the statutory requirements of the TVPA. The term
“‘abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process,’ means the use or threatened use of a
law or legal process . . . in order to exert pressure on another person to cause that person
to take some action or refrain from taking some action.” 18 U.S.C. § 1589(c)(1). It
Pg: 33 of 37
requires more than evidence that a defendant violated other laws of this country or
encouraged others to do the same. It requires proof that the defendant “knowingly”
abused the law or legal process as a means to coerce the victim to provide labor or
services against her will. 18 U.S.C. § 1589(a).
Muchira has failed to present sufficient evidence to satisfy these statutory
requirements. While we do not condone the deception that was allegedly employed at the
Embassy in Saudi Arabia, Muchira admits that she came to the United States voluntarily,
with full knowledge of the $400 pay provision, and that she was complicit in any
deception. She was privately interviewed at the Embassy and affirmed the validity of the
terms of the written employment contract. She has presented no evidence that the Saudi
family forced or pressured her into lying to the United States authorities by means of
threats or other serious harm, or that they otherwise coerced or tricked her into applying
for a visa so as to illegally traffic her into the United States. On the contrary, she testified
that she “had a right to lie” because she would have otherwise lost the opportunity to
another of the Saudi family housemaids. J.A. 355.
Similarly, when Muchira was informed that the Saudi family was applying for 6month extensions of their visas, the Saudi family did not threaten Muchira with arrest or
other adverse consequences if she refused to sign the necessary documents. Muchira
testified that she did not read the pertinent documents, but she assumed “all was well.”
J.A. 234. In any event, Muchira admits that she was aware of the Saudi family’s plans,
and she felt confident enough in the employment relationship to “refuse to go to Saudi
Pg: 34 of 37
Arabia” directly from the United States in May, and to successfully “negotiat[e] with the
family” to pay for her to return directly to Kenya instead. J.A. 728.
Muchira’s claim that she presented sufficient evidence that the Saudi family
coerced her into remaining in their employment in the United States by withholding her
passport as an “implicit threat of arrest” also fails. Appellants’ Brief at 46.
The confiscation of an immigrant’s passport and threats of arrest are common
threats of legal process resorted to by traffickers and others who seek to instill fear in
persons and force them to labor against their will. See, e.g., Callahan, 801 F.3d at 615,
620 (defendants, among other things, ordered developmentally disabled victim to beat her
minor daughter, filmed the beating, and then threatened victim that they would call law
enforcement and have her daughter taken away from her if she did not continue to
comply with their demands); Bradley, 390 F.3d at 148-49 (defendants, among other
things, coerced Jamaican workers to continuing to work by threatening to call the police
and immigration authorities, seizing the workers’ passports after one worker escaped, and
telling the workers that they were legally in debt to the employer). However, Muchira’s
evidence in support of her “implicit threat of arrest” claim consists of little more than
conclusory and speculative allegations that fall far short of establishing that this fear was
reasonable or that the Saudi family intended to instill any such fear.
Muchira was not an undocumented immigrant.
She was at all times legally
present in this country and able to communicate in English. Her testimony is sufficient to
support a finding that the Saudi family kept her passport, just as they had done in Saudi
Arabia, in accordance with the cultural practices of their country. But it is insufficient to
Pg: 35 of 37
support a finding that the Saudi family “seized” or “withheld” Muchira’s passport as a
means of forcing her to remain in a condition of involuntary servitude. Muchira admits
that she never asked to maintain possession of her passport and she was never told that
she could not. Rather, she assumed that this Saudi cultural rule or custom likewise
continued to apply in the United States. And she was given her passport every time that
she needed it. There is also insufficient evidence that the Saudi family knowingly took
actions that were intended as an implicit threat of arrest. The Saudi family never told
Muchira that she could not go out alone in the United States, or that she would suffer
adverse consequences if she tried to do so. Muchira also admits that she ventured out
unaccompanied when she lived in her apartment, and that she accompanied the Saudi
family on numerous public outings without her passport.
Of course, Muchira may well have been legitimately anxious or fearful when she
ultimately left the Saudi family home in the Spring of 2013. She had no assurances that
she would be able to remain in the United States, and she knew that she faced the
prospect of having to return immediately to Kenya under the terms of her visa. That
same knowledge may well have caused her to feel pressure to stay with the Saudi family
for as long as she did, because Muchira did not want to return to Kenya. However, that
pressure was not brought to bear by the Saudi family. Ordinarily, when “applying the
Act, we must distinguish between ‘improper threats or coercion and permissible
warnings of adverse but legitimate consequences.’” Headley, 687 F.3d at 1180 (quoting
Bradley, 390 F.3d at 151). Here, Muchira does not even claim that the Saudi family
warned her of the legitimate consequences that would ensue if she left their employment
Pg: 36 of 37
in the United States. For that matter, there is no evidence that the Saudi family was
aware that Muchira wanted to leave. But Muchira understood that she had only been
granted a temporary visa to accompany the Saudi family to the United States to work,
that she was not allowed to seek or accept other employment while in this country, and,
therefore, that her being forced by immigration officials to return to Kenya was a possible
and legitimate consequence that would accompany her decision to leave her
Accordingly, we hold that Muchira has failed to present sufficient evidence that
the Saudi family knowingly coerced her into providing her labor and services “by means
of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process,” 18 U.S.C. § 1589(a)(3), so as to
withstand summary judgment.
In conclusion, the record in this case indicates that the Saudi family may well have
violated the FLSA or state law by failing to pay Muchira the wages that she was entitled
to receive for the long hours that she worked as a domestic servant for the Saudi family in
Muchira asserts that she did not want to return to Kenya because she had
promised to pay her pastor a fee equivalent to one and a half months’ salary for arranging
her original employment with the Saudi family in Saudi Arabia, and she had never paid
him. However, Muchira has never denied that she was paid in Saudi Arabia and in the
United States. She also sent more than the $400 per month that she was earning in the
United States to her family in Kenya, which would have been more than sufficient to pay
her purported debt. Also, Muchira does not deny that prior to coming to the United
States, she had made the decision to remain in Kenya, apparently without fear of this
alleged debt. In any event, there is no evidence that the Saudi family knew about her
alleged outstanding debt to her pastor, much less threatened her with it, and any pressure
that Muchira experienced was not knowingly brought to bear by the Saudi family as a
means to coerce her into continuing her employment in the United States.
Pg: 37 of 37
As to those claims, Muchira successfully terminated her employment
relationship with the Saudi family and she has successfully pursued her wage-related
remedies via a settlement.
The forced labor provisions of § 1589(a) of the TVPA, however, serve a much
different purpose. Muchira has presented evidence that she was disappointed, stressed
and depressed about her employment situation in the United States. By Muchira’s own
admissions, she did not want to remain in the employ of the Saudi family, but she did not
want to return to her home in Kenya either. She wanted to remain in the United States
and enjoy its abundant educational and employment opportunities. However, the forced
labor provisions of the TVPA are not intended to redress every bad employment
relationship involving immigrants, or to punish immigrants for adhering to cultural rules
and restrictions that many in this country would refuse to abide by. They are intended to
effectuate the constitutional prohibitions against slavery and involuntary servitude, by
criminalizing the act of coercing persons into providing labor and services against their
will and by providing a civil remedy to the victims of such actions. Muchira has failed to
develop sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably conclude that the Saudi
family knowingly forced or coerced her to come to the United States, or to remain in their
employ against her will, by means of serious psychological harm or abuse of law or legal
process, when she otherwise would have left and returned to her home country.
Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants.
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