A Malaysian diplomat and his wife treated a Sri Lankan national virtually as a slave, making her work 15-plus hours a day for no more than $1.71 per hour — “when she was paid at all,” according to a new lawsuit.
The couple, Tamil Arasi Krishnan and hubby Danish Kumar, forbade Parimaladevi “Mala” Jeganathan from leaving their posh East 43rd Street apartment and warned her that if she did, “black people” would “do something to her,” the Manhattan federal lawsuit claims.
“It was pretty clear that she was their servant. She wasn’t allowed to leave the house except to sometimes accompany the family to church,” said Anne Li, Jeganathan’s lawyer.
Jeganathan started working for the couple in Malaysia in 2013. In March of that year, she arrived in the United States on an A-3 visa granted to diplomats’ relatives and household employees, court papers state.
The US State Department listed Krishnan as a consul at the Malaysian consulate on East 43rd Street.
Jeganathan believed that while working for the couple as a do-it-all domestic helper, she was monitored by their building’s doorman and by Malaysian consulate security guards. She was “fearful of venturing outside alone,” the lawsuit says.
Early in 2014, Krishnan told Jeg¬anathan her visa had expired and it was too expensive to renew. Krishnan said that if Jeganathan didn’t agree to work for her for another 3¹/₂ years, she’d be forced to return to war-ravaged Sri Lanka.
“She was frightened . . . and worried for her family,” Li said.
And the couple belittled her into thinking her situation was hopeless, the suit claims. Krishnan allegedly told Jeganathan that she was a “nobody” in the United States and that she wouldn’t help if something bad happened to the worker.
Jeganathan, realizing her plight, contacted the FBI. Agents took her from the apartment on March 6, 2014.
Before she left, Jeganathan insisted that Krishnan inspect her bags in front of the agents so Krishnan could not accuse her of stealing any valuables.
Jeganathan now lives in the city in a “charity-funded safe house,” said Li. “She speaks a little English, and she’s really sweet and really smart. She’s interested in pursuing a life in education.”
The federal lawsuit accuses Krishnan and Kumar of violating laws designed to protect victims of human trafficking.
It also accuses of them violating state and federal labor laws and charges them civilly with fraud and breach of their contract with ¬Jeganathan.
No criminal charges have been filed against the couple, who are back in Malaysia, Li said. They could not be reached for comment.