A Filipina who was awarded $825,000 in damages by a jury after alleging that she was held as an indentured servant by a movie industry executive and his wife says her dream is to remain in Los Angeles and to bring her husband and three children here from the Philippines.
A tearful Nena Ruiz, 60, said last week at a Koreatown news conference that she had not seen her family for four years, but that she was afraid to visit her homeland because she feared for her safety from "agents" of her former employers.
Ruiz alleged in her Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit filed last year that she was held against her will at the Culver City home of James J. Jackson, vice president of legal affairs at Sony Pictures Entertainment, and his wife, Elizabeth, emotionally and physically abused and forced to work 18 hours a day at virtually no pay for a year.
The Jacksons deny all the charges, according to their attorney, Jack Daniels.
"It never happened. It's that simple," Daniels said. "They never abused her. They never falsely imprisoned her."
Following a 2 1/2 -week trial that ended last week, a Santa Monica jury awarded Ruiz $551,490 for involuntary servitude, negligence and fraud. The jury also decided Jackson and his wife should pay $275,000 in punitive damages.
Jackson was suspended without pay from his position at Sony and will be terminated because of this case, according to his attorney.
The couple has filed a motion to eliminate the punitive damages. A hearing on the motion is set for Sept. 13. Daniels said he will also file a motion for a new trial.
Under instructions from her attorneys, affiliated with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking, Ruiz declined to answer questions from reporters, but she said that Elizabeth Jackson had frequently slapped her and pulled her hair.
During her year at the Jacksons' home, Ruiz said she slept in a sleeping bag on a "dog's bed" on the living room floor and ate days-old food, while she prepared fresh food for her employers' pets.
Ruiz said she came to the United States from the Philippines in February 2001 to be a "traveling companion" for James Jackson's mother-in-law, a Filipino citizen residing in Sacramento. Ruiz said Elizabeth Jackson, who hired her in Manila, promised to sponsor her family and bring them to the United States.
After a brief stay in Sacramento, Ruiz alleged that she was forced to come to Los Angeles to work for the Jacksons.
Since she fled the Jacksons' condo in February 2002, a day after a neighbor called police, Ruiz has earned a certificate as a nurse's assistant, she said.
Her attorneys said Ruiz has applied for a special visa created for victims of human trafficking, which would enable her to remain and work in the United States for three years, at which time she could seek permanent resident status.