Gloria Allred called a press conference today to announce that California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman knowingly hired an illegal immigrant for nine years. Nicky Diaz Santillan, also present at the press conference, was hired in 2000 to work as a nanny and housekeeper for Whitman. Santillan says she was pressured to work more hours than initially agreed, but not compensated for the extra labor. Whitman’s treatment, Santillan alleges, caused her to “feel exploited, disrespected, humiliated, and emotionally and financially abused.”
In 2009, shortly after Whitman announced her candidacy for California governor, Santillan says she asked Whitman’s help in securing legal status in the U.S.—but Whitman fired her via a phone call. “She told me, I talked to my lawyer, and he told me we cannot help you,” Santillan said. “From now on, you don’t know me and I don’t know you… Do you understand me?”
Whitman responded through her attorney (via L.A. Times):
“This person was initially hired by Meg Whitman in November 2000. She filled out standard [Internal Revenue Service] forms and Department of Justice forms and presented her Social Security card and California driver’s license. She filled out immigration forms that stated under penalty of perjury that she was a lawful resident… On June 20, 2009, this person came to Ms. Whitman and confessed that she was not a legal resident of the U.S. She was immediately suspended and terminated on June 29, 2009.”
U.S. law does not adequately protect domestic servants. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 gave most Americans basic workers rights, empowering them to unionize and engage in collective bargaining, and be protected from discrimination in doing so. Domestic workers and agricultural laborers were left out of this law’s protection, making them vulnerable to exploitation—even enslavement and trafficking.
Recently, New York became the first U.S. state ever to pass an extensive domestic workers’ rights law. California extends no such protections. Meg Whitman’s alleged treatment of her former housekeeper does not fall into the realm of slavery, but it highlights the dark spaces where worker exploitation can thrive.
In 2005, a Los Angeles Sony Executive and his wife were accused of enslaving Nena Ruiz, a Philippine national, in domestic servitude. The court found the couple liable for involuntary servitude and false imprisonment, and awarded Ruiz $825,000. At a press conference, Ruiz said, “Slavery still exists, and I want to tell victims they should not tolerate it and should not be afraid to seek help.”