The ex-chairman and CEO of Occidental Petroleum and his wife are being sued by three Filipino domestic workers who allege they were poorly paid for “slave-like work hours” and disparaged because of their race.
Trinidad De La Cruz, Melanie Belonio and Elena Gabriel are seeking unspecified damages in their suit against Ray and Ghada Irani, which alleges numerous employment violations, hostile work environment harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment and slander.
A representative for the Iranis could not be immediately reached for comment on the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Belonio and Gabriel also allege human trafficking violations by the Iranis, claiming they were lured to the U.S. with false promises of a good job and good pay. They allege that after they were brought to America, the Iranis and their “agents” seized their passports to restrict their travels.
The plaintiffs were warned they could be deported and returned to Qatar, where the Iranis obtained travel papers for Belonio and Gabriel that falsely stated the workers were employed by the royal family, the lawsuit alleges.
The Iranis were unable to get U.S. visas for the two workers in Lebanon, where they initially worked for the couple in their vacation home, the suit states.
The Iranis brought De La Cruz to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia, where she worked for a relative of Ghada Irani, according to the suit.
Ray Irani is a USC graduate and has donated millions of dollars to the university. He pledged $15 million last year for the creation of the Ray Irani Residential College in the USC Village, which is currently under construction. His wife is a philanthropist and has chaired UNICEF’s Southern California Regional Board.
According to the complaint, all three plaintiffs worked at the Iranis’ 17,480-square-foot Bel Air mansion. De La Cruz was employed there from January 1997 to January 2016, while Belonio and Gabriel toiled there from October 2013 to February 2016.
All three women grew up in humble conditions in the Philippines and worked as migrant workers in the Middle East, where they met the Iranis and were solicited for their services, the complaint states.
“Throughout the time they worked in the Iranis’ Bel Air mansion, plaintiffs were consistently subjected to a hostile and abusive working environment on account of plaintiffs’ status as Filipinos,” the suit alleges.
Ghada Irani repeatedly berated the women with “highly racist and offensive remarks” that denigrated the workers for their ethnicity, the plaintiffs allege.
“It is in the blood of Filipinos to be stealers,” Ghada Irani told the plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit. She also said they had no need for their passports because they would work at the Bel Air mansion for life, according to the lawsuit.
Given the alleged excessive hours the three women were required to initially work, their effective wage rate was about $2.85 an hour, the suit alleges. Their pay increased over time, but they continued to be subjected to “slave-like work hours” throughout the period they worked for the Iranis, the suit alleges.
—City News Service