The deal, filed in Denver federal court Wednesday , covers nearly 100,000 people, mainly women, who came to the United States to work as au pairs between Jan. 1, 2009, and Oct. 28, 2018. Lawyers who have been representing the au pairs in the class-action case for free over the past four years expect to ask a judge for 35 percent of the settlement for compensation and legal fees, leaving about $40 million to be divided among the au pairs.
The 11 au pairs named as plaintiffs — from Colombia, Australia, Germany, South Africa and Mexico — would get $5,000 each as a base payment. Amounts for other au pairs and any additional money for the named plaintiffs would be determined using the formula, which factors in when they worked, whether they had to undergo unpaid training, which states they worked in, and the various claims of wrongdoing in the lawsuit.
"This settlement is designed to get as much of the class funds to as many class members as possible," said David Seligman, director of Denver's Towards Justice, which filed the lawsuit in 2014. If a judge gives the deal preliminary approval, which could happen in a matter of weeks, notices of the settlement will be sent to au pairs using their email addresses provided by the companies that recruited them, said Peter Skinner, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, a New York firm that took over as lead counsel in the case. He also expects word to spread through social media, including Facebook groups for current and former au pairs. Information about the settlement is also being added to aupairclassaction.com.
Money would not be paid out until after final approval by the court. The lawsuit claimed 15 companies authorized to bring au pairs to the United States colluded to keep their wages low, ignoring overtime and state minimum wage laws and treating the federal minimum wage for au pairs as a maximum amount they could earn. In some cases, the lawsuit said, families pushed the limits of their duties, requiring au pairs to do things like feed backyard chickens and help families move and not allowing them to eat with the family.
The companies denied any wrongdoing under the deal, which came a few weeks before the case was set to go on trial. The trade group representing many of those companies, Alliance for International Exchange, declined to comment on the settlement.
The settlement also requires the companies to tell future au pairs that they have the right to ask to be paid above the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which the lawyers expect will help some to negotiate for higher pay based on things like their experience, the number of children or their cost of living.
"As a former au pair and career nanny, I feel hopeful about this settlement," said Tatiane Oliveira, a native of Brazil who now advocates for domestic workers at Boston's Matahari Women Workers' Center.
However, she said more work needs to be done to protect au pairs' rights, including setting up a third party to ensure families are complying with all regulations.