Servant tells of $60-a-month drudgery Worker from Malawi suing Md. couple

July 16, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A citizen of Malawi has testified that a Maryland couple paid him $60 a month for working 17-hour days as a house servant after they brought him to the United States.

One of the employers denied the charges yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The man also said the couple told him he was barred from working for anyone else or from traveling too far from their home.

Caleb Joses Zintambila, 41, testified Tuesday that he was usually forced to work from 7 a.m. to midnight at the Potomac home of Leonard F. and Jane Marte during his 26-month stay there.

Mrs. Marte, an employee of the U.S. Information Agency, denied this.

"I was going to bed whenever they asked me to go. That was usually after they had their champagne," Mr. Zintambila said in a soft southern African accent, adding that the couple normally drank two or three bottles of champagne a night. "They didn't allow me to go to bed at 10:30 or 11:30. They wanted me to wait to serve their drinks." He said he also did housework for the Martes, tended their garden, washed their cars and performed other duties -- working seven days a week without a vacation.

He filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Mr. and Mrs. Marte in 1988, claiming that the couple paid him below the minimum wage, violated his civil rights and breached his employment contract.

Mr. Zintambila said the couple deducted $20 from his $60 salary every month for his room and board and for the cost of his transportation to the United States.

The diminutive Mr. Zintambila testified that Mr. Marte assaulted him three times when he was displeased with his work.

Mrs. Marte met Mr. Zintambila in 1984 when she headed the USIA operation there and he was an agency employee, according to court papers. She and her husband brought him to the U.S. in 1986 when she left her assignment there.

Mr. Zintambila said the couple restricted his travel while he was in their employ and told him his visa prohibited him from working for anyone else. He said he secretly left in September 1988 to work at another household.

Mr. Marte, a freelance journalist, has not appeared at the trial, which began Tuesday. Mrs. Marte, while being questioned by Mr. Zintambila's lawyer, Thomas J. Mack, said yesterday that her husband was not present because he was on assignment in Indonesia.

The couple filed a countersuit against Mr. Zintambila in June 1989, claiming that he threatened her with a machete in July 1988 after she yelled at him, intentionally ruined the couple's clothing by ironing it improperly, and defamed them with false charges. They later dropped that suit, however.

Mrs. Marte said Mr. Zintambila was not required to get up early every day. She testified that he started working early on his own to clean the couple's car many times.

She denied that he was not allowed to take a vacation, saying the couple left the country periodically, leaving no work for him. "He was free to do nothing," Mrs. Marte said. "We had suggested that if he wanted to go somewhere, he could go somewhere. While we were away, he wasn't required to do anything."

She insisted that Mr. Zintambila's visa did not allow him to work for anyone else, but she disputed his claim that his travel was restricted.

Elma Blackwell, a woman who befriended Mr. Zintambila, said he appeared afraid to speak to anyone when she first met him on a Potomac street.

"He was very frightened. As a matter of fact, he was crying," Ms. Blackwell said. "He said he's not allowed to talk with anybody."

Closing arguments are expected today.

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