A US judge on Tuesday rejected a request by a Bangladesh diplomat and his wife to dismiss a lawsuit by a former domestic worker who accused them of forcing him to work without pay in slavery-like conditions.
US District Judge Sidney Stein in Manhattan said Monirul Islam, a former New York consul general of Bangladesh, and his wife Fahima Tahsina Prova were not immune from the lawsuit by Mashud Parves Rana, because their employment and supervision of him were not “consular functions.”
Rana sued for back pay and punitive damages last March, shortly before Islam began a new job in Morocco as Bangladesh’s ambassador to that country.
The lawsuit was filed several days after Devyani Khobragade, once India’s deputy consul general in New York, won dismissal of a federal indictment concerning her employment of another domestic worker, in a case that frayed U.S.-India relations.
A lawyer for Islam and Prova did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rana, a Bangladesh citizen admitted to the United States on an A-3 visa, had accused the defendants of luring him to work for them in New York by promising to pay him $3,000 a month and renew his visa.
Instead, he said he was never paid during his roughly 1-1/2 years of employment, and was forced to work 16- to 20-hour days through “physical threats, coercion, isolation (and) physical restraint,” with threats to his life if he tried to escape.
“The record on this motion shows that Rana was employed to meet defendants’ private needs,” Stein wrote. “That Rana occasionally cooked food for events at the Bangladesh Consulate and provided services at monthly community events there is not sufficient to render his employment a consular function.”
Emily Shea, a lawyer at the Dechert law firm representing Rana, welcomed the decision.
“Mr. Rana was enslaved by the defendants for over a year,” she said in a telephone interview. “This ruling brings him one step closer to getting what he is owed.”
The Bangladesh Consulate General was not named as a defendant. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case is Rana v. Islam et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-01993.