About 100,000 former au pairs agreed to receive $65.5 million in back pay after reaching a settlement Wednesday with 15 companies authorized to place the young foreigners for low-cost child care and other services in U.S. households.
Those who worked between 2009 and 2018 are covered under the deal, which still needs to be approved by the federal court.
Nearly a dozen au pairs filed a class-action lawsuit in Denver federal court in 2014. A trial date had been scheduled for Feb. 25 before the settlement. But both sides agreed to settle the case after mediation efforts by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hegarty, Law.com reported.
Rather than being administered by the Department of Labor, their work falls under the State Department’s J-1 visa program, which was established in 1986.
“Our argument was that they colluded together to keep their wages well below state and federal minimum wages, and [prospective au pairs] were being told by sponsor agencies that the wages were set and that there was no room to negotiate,” Peter Skinner, a partner with Boies Schiller Flexner, which represented the au pairs, told NPR.
“Au pairs have always had the ability to negotiate their salaries under the existing regulations but they were being given incorrect information.”
The young people took care of children and performed household duties that included cooking, cleaning and playing chauffeur.
As part of the settlement, the companies will provide future au pairs adequate information about their rights under U.S. laws.
According to the lawsuit, the agencies set their maximum weekly wage at $195.75 for a 45-hour work week, which breaks down to $4.35 per hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
“This settlement, the hard-fought victory of our clients who fought for years on behalf of about 100,000 fellow au pairs, will be perhaps the largest settlement ever on behalf of minimum wage workers and will finally give au pairs the opportunity to seek higher wages and better working conditions,” said David Seligman, director of Denver-based Towards Justice, the advocacy group that filed the suit.
Sponsor agencies have said they follow the State Department’s guidelines, which allow families to deduct 40 percent of an au pair’s salary to cover required room and board.
Sponsors include Cultural Care, AuPairCare International and the American Institute for Foreign Study.
AuPairCare said its standard au pair program is a year-long cultural exchange experience for the host family and au pair.
“Host families are responsible for disbursing au pairs’ weekly stipends, providing room and board in the home, an additional education stipend, and two weeks of personal vacation for au pairs to experience even more of what America has to offer,” according to AuPairCare’s website.