El Paso Woman Files Lawsuit to Recover Wages, Stop Retaliation
Gabriela Barraza (far left) speaks about her case
(click here to view press conference video)
El Paso, TX — Gabriela Barraza, a local El Pasoan represented by Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, filed a complaint in state court to recover unpaid wages and other damages from local couple John and Lupe Garcia.
Ms. Barraza worked for the Garcias from September 2008 to February 2009. During this time, she cleaned their house, did their laundry, took care of their children, and cooked dinner for them, among other responsibilities. For over five months, she was at their house Monday through Friday without fail.
Despite her hard work, Ms. Barraza was only receiving $200 for an average workweek of 35 hours, a clear violation of federal wage and labor laws. The couple also refused to pay her for four weeks of work. In total, she is owed around $1,500.
"Workers must receive at least the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour," said Chris Benoit of Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, "This standard applies even if workers work in a home, in the fields, or as a day laborer."
|After 8 months of unanswered phone calls, Ms. Barraza looked to the Labor Justice Committee for assistance. The Labor Justice Committee (Comité de Justicia Laboral, or CJL) was started during the summer of 2009 to combat the high rate of wage theft that is rampant in El Paso.
Members of the Labor Justice Committee, who are all volunteers, hold weekly meetings that are open to any community member who has a wage claim case, and/or is otherwise interested in labor rights. During these meetings, committee members provide basic information on labor rights and work with new members to resolve their problems, using strategies as varied as phone calls and letters, to delegations and candlelight vigils to employers’ residences.
Despite the short time it has been in existence, the Committee has already won multiple cases, with one employer agreeing to pay $8,000 in unpaid wages. Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project provides legal support for the CJL.
The Committee attempted to bring Ms. Garcia to negotiate a payment agreement but she refused to meet with Ms. Barraza. In fact, instead of sitting down with Ms. Barraza, Ms. Garcia threatened to call various law enforcement agencies to stop Ms. Barraza from claiming what was hers.
Josefina Torres, a Committee member said, "The Committee supported Ms. Barraza through attempts at negotiation and a candlelight vigil, all of which was well within our rights. We were greeted by threats and intimidation."
"Because of the Committee’s involvement, Ms. Garcia finally paid attention," said Ms. Barraza. "Because of their presence, I was less afraid that she would try to intimidate or threaten me."
Ms. Barraza filed a lawsuit in state court in a further attempt to recover the money she is owed and to stop acts of retaliation. For Ms. Barraza, it is about more than just money:
"I’m talking to the media because I want to make sure all El Paso employers realize that they aren’t above the law — that there are consequences for not paying workers what they’re owed and for retaliating against workers when they try to recover their wages."
|Thank You for a Terrific 2009 Bill of Rights Dinner
Click here to visit our YouTube Channel to see videos shown at the BOR Dinner
Congratuations to our heroes:
Emcee Michael Tigar
Molly Ivins "Give ‘Em Hell" Award
Award-winning journalist, author and host of NPR’s Latino USA
Henry B. González Civil Rights Award
Leadership in Prisoners’ Rights, Texas CURE
Ray Gill Award
Champion for the poor through his efforts to expand legal services
King & Spalding LLP
(Sammy Davis, Truman Fenton,
Tom Gutting & Rebecca Horwitz)
Pro Bono Champion Awards