Court awards $15M-plus in damages to 11 OFWs in LA bakery suit
The case of the 11 Filipino bakery workers who claimed human trafficking and labor abuses against a prominent Filipino family doing business in America was revived this week with a multimillion dollar judgment in favor of the workers.
A judgment has been issued against Analiza Moitinho de Almeida and her husband Goncarlo, the owners of French Concepts’L’Amande Bakery in Los Angeles, in the 2015 lawsuit filed by former Filipino employees in the U.S. on E-2 visas.
Federal Judge Fernando Olguin granted the former bakery workers’ motion for damages to the tune of $15, 252, 297, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court May 2.
The judgment awards the money as damages to the 11 workers named.
And it makes sure that any monies the de Almeidas have will be used to pay the workers. The judgment specifically voids the transfer and sale of the de Almeida’s main home known as the Aurora property in a suburb of Los Angeles; and it voids deeds of trusts that identifies Analiza Moitinho de Almeida’s father Juan B. Santos, as beneficiary of the property.
Analiza’s father, Juan, was part of the “Hyatt 10” group of Cabinet officials that withdrew support for then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after the “Hello, Garci” scandal.
“We believe (Analiza Moitinho de Almeida) (transferred the deed to her father) so that the property would no longer be in her name and so that the plaintiffs could not reach it in the lawsuit against her,” Laboni Hoq, attorney for the 11 workers told me last August.
At the time of the filing, Santos began foreclosure proceedings against his own daughter in a way to gain assets. The judgment voids that.
The judgment also attaches all remaining assets of the de Almeidas, and prevents any transfer of assets in their residence trust.
The judgment comes more than a year after the initial lawsuit filed in March 2015 was undefended and then abandoned by the de Almeidas last year.
Filed by 11 former workers led by Ermita Alabado and Louise Luis held E-2 investor visas to do jobs at the de Almeida’s bakeries, but soon found themselves doing other unauthorized work. The suit alleged 27 counts of human trafficking, racketeering, and labor abuses.
Instead of defending the suit vigorously, the de Almedas took their fight to post disparaging items about the workers on the Internet.
In the meantime, the workers noticed the de Almeidas had begun disposing properties. They filed a motion for default judgment against the de Almeidas expecting an award of more than $12 million.
The judge granted damages in excess of $15 million.
Neither the lawyers for the workers, nor the de Almeidas responded to my request for a comment by deadline.
All the while, the de Almeidas have claimed they did nothing wrong.
In an email Analiza Moitinho de Almeida last August called the case “a serious attempt at extortion, a frivolous lawsuit meant to bully small business owners.”
She continued: “To the 11 Filipino workers—Do not abuse the rich vs. poor theme to your advantage. Being poor does NOT allow you to commit crimes. There are real victims out there and your own photos prove you are not among them.”
The reference was to the dozens of photos of the workers posted by Ms.Moitinho de Almeida on social media.
That strategy may have been intended to woo public opinion, but maybe the couple should have concentrated on court and not Facebook likes.
“In their court papers, Ana and Gonz did not deny any of these facts,let alone present evidence to the contrary,” Hoq told me.
The judgment was predictable when the couple didn’t show up. It voids any transfer and clearly earmarks any assets to pay the damages due the workers.
But trying to collect from the no-shows will still be an issue.
The workers’ attorney knows that will be a challenge. But if the de Almeida’s are in the Philippines for the national elections and decide to stay, it shouldn’t matter.
Last August, Hoq, the workers’ attorney said the de Almeidas won’t be able to avoid the litigation, as they and their assets remain subject to the jurisdiction of the court.
But there’s that simple matter of collecting the money.
In other words, the workers’ victory is still just a moral one for now.
It’s a lawsuit, not the lottery.
And while this week has put a specific dollar amount in full view with assets attached, the fight is far from over.
Emil Guillermo is journalist and commentator who writes from Northern California. Contact: www.twittter.com/emilamok
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.