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Sabbithi v. Al Saleh
United States District Court of the District of Columbia
605 F. Supp. 2d 122 (2009)
Mani Kumari Sabbithi, Joaquina Quadros, and Gila Sixtina Fernandes (collectively, the employees) (plaintiffs) were employed as domestic workers by Major Waleed KH N.S. Al Saleh (defendant), a Kuwaiti diplomat, and Al Saleh’s wife, Mayssa KH A.O.A. Al Omar (defendant). In 2005, Al Saleh and Al Omar moved with the employees from Kuwait to the United States. While in the United States, Al Saleh served at the Embassy of Kuwait. In 2007, the employees sued Al Saleh and Al Omar in federal district court and pursued criminal charges against them. The employees claimed that they had entered employment contracts prior to the move and that Al Saleh and Al Omar had failed to comply with the terms of the employment. Additionally, the employees claimed that they were forced to work sixteen to nineteen hours per day without direct payment, deprived of their passports, and subjected to threats and abuse. Al Saleh and Al Omar moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that they had diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (the relations convention). The employees argued that diplomatic immunity was not applicable because Al Saleh’s and Al Omar’s actions constituted human trafficking and therefore was a commercial activity outside of official diplomatic activities. The employees further argued that diplomatic immunity could not be asserted because Al Omar and Al Saleh had violated the prohibition on slavery in the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and jus cogens norms. The employees also claimed that pursuant to the subsequent-in-time rule, the relations convention was superseded by the United States’ Traffic Victim Protection Act (the protection act), which governed penalties for slavery and human trafficking. The subsequent-in-time rule provided that, if a treaty and a statute governing the same subject could not be harmonized, then the one that came into effect later controls. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia considered the motion.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Sullivan, J.)
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