Malawi servant wins $61,501 in labor case

July 17, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A federal jury yesterday awarded $61,501 to a Malawi man who claimed he was paid $60 a month while being forced to work 17-hour days for a Maryland couple who brought him to the United States to work as a house servant.

The jury of four men and four women deliberated for 90 minutes before finding in favor of Caleb Joses Zintambila, 41, in the courtroom of Judge William N. Nickerson in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Jurors awarded Mr. Zintambila $9,500 on his claim that Leonard F. and Jane Marte violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay him the minimum wage. The Malawi man said he usually worked from 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, and was forced to remain on duty until he finished serving the couple their nightly champagne.

The jury awarded him $2,000 on his claim of breach of contract and $1 for violation of his civil rights. The largest award was $50,000 in punitive damages.

Mr. Zintambila's lawyer, Thomas J. Mack, said in closing arguments yesterday that the couple took advantage of a man who was eager to come to America by paying him below the minimum wage and by overcharging him ($20 per month) for substandard living conditions.

According to testimony, Mr. Zintambila worked for the couple in Malawi when Mrs. Marte was head of the U.S. Information Agency in that African nation. In July 1986, he signed a contract to work for the couple after Mrs. Marte ended her assignment in Malawi. .

He left their Potomac home 26 months later.

Mr. Mack said Mr. Marte was responsible for most of the mistreatment, and that his wife had appeared to be unaware of the illegal pay arrangement. Mr. Marte, a free-lance journalist, did not appear in court during the trial.

Mr. Mack said his client was forced to live in an unfinished basement and was not allowed to use showers or baths in the couple's home. Instead, he said, Mr. Zintambila was given a bucket, which he used with an outdoor hose to bathe.

"This is a man, who in Africa, took showers," Mr. Mack said.

Jerry R. Goldstein, the Martes' lawyer, urged the jury not to believe Mr. Zintambila, saying his testimony conflicted with statements he had made during pretrial depositions.

Mr. Goldstein said the couple gave Mr. Zintambila Christmas presents, took him shopping and bought him lottery tickets. He also disputed whether Mr. Zintambila worked long hours, saying he had a great deal of free time during the day.

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