Domestic worker accuses tech execs of sex harassment, wage theft
Domestic worker accuses tech execs of sex harassment, wage theft
Updated 4:22 pm, Wednesday, October 7, 2015
A former housekeeper and nanny for two top San Francisco tech executives said the couple underpaid her for years and the husband sexually harassed her — including exposing himself in front of her in their Marina District home, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court.
Julieta Dela Cruz Yang said that for years she was paid a flat wage for working five hours a day, while she toiled many hours of unpaid overtime for Uber’s head of corporate development, Cameron Poetzscher, and his wife, Varsha Rao, head of global operations for Airbnb.
Through a representative, the couple denied the allegations.
The 45-year-old single mother of three from the Philippines said the couple maintained an atmosphere in which Poetzscher’s unwanted sexual advances and innuendos were tolerated while she was a live-in worker, looking after their two children, from July 2013 to April 2015. She moved to the United States with the couple after working for them from 2008 to 2013 in Singapore.
Yang’s suit alleges 16 causes of action against the couple, including several involving wage theft and sexual harassment. She is seeking back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages “in an appropriate amount … to deter others from engaging in similar misconduct,” according to the suit.
She said she was frequently employed for more than 10 hours a day without a 30-minute work break, according to the suit. Even after Yang signed an employment contract, the suit alleges that computer-generated time sheets she was ordered to sign before being paid did not accurately reflect the hours she actually worked. Regardless of how long she worked, she would be paid $450 a week.
Speaking up for others
“I know there are many others like me in this city — mothers, migrants, workers doing the work that makes all other work possible,” Yang said at a Wednesday press conference, surrounded by activists from Migrante Northern California, which helped her when even the Philippine Consulate could not. “I am speaking up for the sake of my own dignity and so that no other Filipina migrants will have to go through what I went through.”
When she worked for the couple in Singapore, the suit alleges, Poetzscher would ask her to rub lotion on his back while his wife and children were out of the house, and once asked if she was interested in pleasuring him with “handwork.” She said no.
Yang said she complained to Rao about her husband’s behavior and he apologized. But the suit alleges that it continued after the move to the United States, where “she believed that Poetzscher was trying to pressure her to have a sexual relationship with him.” Once, he asked her to massage his legs with a rolling pin, according to the suit.
A representative of for Poetzscher said Wednesday: “We are both deeply shocked and saddened by these allegations — which are completely and utterly false.
“Julieta worked as our nanny for seven years and was an important part of our family, someone both our children loved deeply. Julieta left in April, and we have not heard from her since then. We will make no further comment about this case.”
Poetzscher, a graduate of Harvard Business School, spent 17 years as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs before joining Uber in 2014. Rao, also a Harvard Business School alum, worked as an executive at several companies before joining Airbnb in November 2013. She led the e-commerce site of Old Navy and was the founder and co-CEO of Eve.com, raising $25 million for the online beauty site before selling it to Idealab in 2000.
Advocates said the situation Yang described illustrates a growing problem, as the wealth gap grows in San Francisco faster than anywhere else in the country.
Many domestic workers, often because of their immigration status and lack of options, hesitate to complain about poor conditions they experience while they work for the city’s growing wealthy elite class. Many immigrants — who frequently have no family nearby and maintain little contact with others outside their employers — feel trapped and fear being fired. They feel that if they lose their job, they will have nowhere to go and no one to help them.
Yang and her attorneys declined to say what her immigration status is, saying it is irrelevant in this case because the applicable laws cover people who are not U.S. citizens as well.
A 2013 report on California working conditions by the National Domestic Workers alliance found that 61 percent of domestic workers who responded to a survey said they were paid below what it would take to support a family. One in 4 respondents said they were paid below the California minimum wage.
The nation’s 2.5 million domestic workers are particularly vulnerable not only to wage theft but also to sexual harassment, because they work behind closed doors, said Hina Shah, director of the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law, and one of Yang’s attorneys. Sexual harassment is vastly underreported, Shah said.
An estimated 12 million Filipinos — roughly 10 percent of the country — live and work outside of their home country and send money back to support their families. In 2014, some $24.3 billion was sent back to the Philippines from this diaspora, according to Princess Bustos of Migrante Northern California.
Yang has been been working around the world since her youngest child was 9 months old (her children are now 15, 16, and 18 and all attend school in the Philippines.) She has worked in Taiwan, Singapore and the United States, always sending money back home so her children could go to school.
“There are a lot of people like me,” Yang said.
Joe Garofoli is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @joegarofoli
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