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Babysitter Against CSUN Professor in Worker's Compensation Dispute PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 27 September 2012 05:15

Case Becomes Rallying Cry as the Governor Ponders Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights


A Worker's Compensation dispute between a babysitter and her former employer, a California State University Northridge (CSUN) professor, has gained prominence as activists pressure Gov. Jerry Brown to sign into law Assembly Bill 889, the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

The proposed legislation would establish basic worker's rights for live-in nannies, caretakers, and housekeepers such as overtime pay, vacation time, and rest periods. The governor has until the end of September to sign the bill.

Patricia Lopez, 37, says she worked five years as a household worker, nanny and party hostess for David T. Russell, associate professor of Insurance and Finance at CSUN and director of the Center for Risk and Insurance. She claims she was always paid in cash and never received overtime pay, vacation time, a full night's rest, or compensation for times when the Russells family went on vacation leaving their three children behind under her care.

But Lopez said the dispute began Jan. 19 when Russell's 7-year-old son, under her care, tripped her down the stairs of a two-story home, leaving her unconscious and bleeding from her nose.

"I was having problems with the 7- year-old child because he wanted to take toys to the school," Lopez recalled. "He got very upset with me. We started to come down the stairs and the boy, who was upset, stepped on the back part of my shoe and made me lose my equilibrium. I tried to grab the railing, but I couldn't, and I flew over the stairs and fell face down."

She said she currently owes nearly $90,000 in medical bills and suffers from pain, numbness, loss of sleep, and many other ills related directly to her fall.

Lopez said Russell has never called to apologize to her for his son's behavior, which caused her to fall. Lopez said she is also losing her home because she cannot work and has missed several mortgage payments in a row. She said she was to pay Russell, as he lent her the money to buy the house.

"When I woke up at UCLA, I couldn't feel my body," recalled Lopez during a telephone interview from her home in Apple Valley. "The doctors told me I would recuperate in a couple of days, but I ended up in another hospital."

Health Struggles

Lopez said it takes her a while in the morning to "feel normal" and experiences physiological problems, such as being able to tell whether she needs to urinate. She also has problems with her balance.

Lopez said neither Russell nor his family have offered to help her after the acci-dent, which has made it impossible for her to work.

"They [doctors] told me I have problems with my spine. I know I'll never be normal again," she said.

"I thought they would come and ask me how they could help me, but that never happened." She has retained legal representation and filed a worker's compensation claim against Russell, claiming she usually worked 60-hour weeks in exchange for $1,100 in cash weekly payments from the family.

Lopez said she repeatedly asked Russell for a W-2 or 1099-tax form, but he never gave her one.

"I want him to pay me for my vacation and holidays and for the extra hours I didn't get paid," Lopez said.

Lopez' case was denied by the state Division of Worker's Compensation, claiming they had a different version of the fall and her allegations. She is appealing the case.

Lopez also claims that Russell wanted her to sign a document stating that she had only began working for him in 2011 and not 2006, as she says is the case. Russell denies that.

"That is a falsehood," he said, adding that the "Worker's Compensation law" speaks for itself.

"I can't comment on the case because it's still pending," he noted. "She can make all the allegation she wants. It's her right under the law. Her claims are without merit."

Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights

Activists say Lopez' case illustrates the need for the governor to sign Assembly Bill 889 into law.

This past week, The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) flooded Gov. Brown's Los Angeles and Sacramento offices with flower arrangements on behalf of domestic workers.

"The flower arrangements represent our collective request for the governor to think of the delicate and precious work domestic workers perform every day in thousands upon thousands of California households," said CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas.

"We urge the governor to send a strong message to the rest of America that California values every worker's contribution to our families and our economy. Domestic workers deserve basic worker rights and California families yearn for tools that can help them compensate their worker's arduous and loving care."

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 September 2012 18:32

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