Llenroc owner defends self against lawsuit by woman seeking back wages
ALBANY Annie George, convicted of harboring an illegal alien in her palatial Llenroc mansion in Rexford and now being sued by the woman for back wages, says in her legal response that the woman was never her employee.
George’s attorney, John Harwick, recently responded to the lawsuit brought against George by Valsamma Mathai. Mathai is seeking damages she alleges were inflicted by her alleged employer by human trafficking; violations of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude; as well as violations of federal and state wage and hour laws.
In her response, George sets forth several defenses, including that Mathai was never her employee.
Mathai’s suit followed a federal criminal trial in March in which George was convicted of harboring Mathai at the family’s Llenroc mansion, but acquitted of more serious accusations of doing so for financial gain. That acquittal suggested that the jury rejected the prosecution’s contention that Mathai stayed with the family as a formal servant.
George was sentenced in July to eight months of home confinement and five years’ probation.
In Mathai’s suit, brought with the help of the Worker Justice Center of New York, she contends she was “subjected to involuntary servitude, forced labor and was grossly underpaid” by George.
Mathai makes allegations in her suit similar to those made by federal prosecutors at George’s trial: that Mathai was responsible for cooking, cleaning, child care and other duties, for nearly six years, all without a day off.
In the legal papers, which were filed in August, Mathai was listed then as living in Albany County and indicated that she was granted a special visa certifying her as a “victim of a severe form of trafficking.” The lawsuit does not indicate when the visa was granted or when it will expire.
George’s response references Mathai’s visa situation, alleging that any damages Mathai suffered were the result of her own conduct.
Mathai “illegally stayed in the United States” and “used the opportunity to stay at defendant’s residence in a clandestine attempt to obtain a U.S. visa, which she eventually did,” the response reads.
George also denies she violated the law, and is appealing her criminal conviction. But, even if such a violation of the law could be proved, she “has not committed any willful violation and, in fact, has acted in a good-faith belief that she was in compliance with the law,” the response reads.
While denying that Mathai was an employee, George’s attorney in the response contends that to the extent Mathai may have been considered a baby-sitter or domestic worker, George was exempt from overtime or minimum wage laws.
A total of eight separate defenses are set out in George’s response.
Among those, she contends that Mathai was an independent contractor, accepting a certain monetary wage plus room and board in exchange for providing services for George. Mathai “was not threatened, coerced, or restrained — she was free to leave at any time she desired.”
Another defense offered is that Mathai voluntarily resided with George as a guest.
Mathai makes allegations in her lawsuit similar to those made by federal prosecutors at the George trial: That she was responsible for cooking, cleaning, child care and other duties, for nearly six years, all without a day off; that she never had access to any money she earned; that she was told repeatedly that she could not leave the Rexford estate.
Mathai’s time with the family finally ended in May 2011, when her son in India contacted the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Federal agents then went to Llenroc and removed her.