Underpaid au pair workers settle lawsuit for $65.5 million

Childcare workers who earn less than the minimum wage had a big win this month with the settlement of a lawsuit against 15 companies who recruited so-called au pairs from around the world.

The former employees, who traveled from their home countries on J-1 visas to work for U.S. families, were typically paid a salary that works out to $4.35 per hour, for 45 hours of work per week.

The lawsuit alleged that the au pairs’ sponsoring agencies colluded to create the impression that State Department salary guidelines for paying au pairs set a ceiling on compensation rather than a floor.  If it is approved by the court, 100,000 former au pairs will benefit from the settlement, which will pay out $65.5 million in back wages.

The J-1 program, and particularly the au pair part of the program, is marketed as a cultural exchange.  Critics describe it as a work visa with little oversight and serious abuses.  Former employees recount stories of financial struggle and lack of support from sponsoring agencies.

Persons who worked as au pairs on J-1 visas between January 1, 2009 and October 28, 2018 may benefit from the settlement if it is approved.  Information can be found here.  Current au pairs may be able to use this model agreement to help negotiate understandings with their employers, and can find more information about their legal rights here.

Carol Brooke is a senior attorney with the N.C. Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights project. 

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