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By Anna Kwidzinski
Sept. 11—A customer service representative at a Missouri call center who participated in a training program in India has triable misrepresentation and forced labor claims based on an unclear relationship between the U.S. company and its Indian counterpart, a federal court ruled Sept. 9.
Mandi Friend claimed that Aegis Communications Group LLC and Aegis USA Inc. negligently or intentionally induced her to take part in a “cross-shoring” program in India, where she worked and received training for a $100 monthly stipend plus food and lodging. Friend also alleged violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Genuine issues of material fact surround “the independence of ACG and [Indian company] Aegis Aspire with regard to any statements made to Plaintiff,” the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri found.
Judge Douglas Harpool decided that the TVPA applies extraterritorially in this case, given that “both Plaintiff and Defendants are U.S. citizens and the claims are based on conduct that occurred, in part, within the United States.”
The court rejected ACG's contention that the TVPA shouldn't apply to Friend's time in India, according to precedent established in Liu v. Siemens AG, No. 13-4385, 2014 BL 227537 (2d Cir. 2014).
Without addressing whether reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission is necessary to qualify for whistle-blower protections under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Liu court decided that these protections don't extend to a foreign national employed abroad by a foreign corporation when all related events occurred outside the United States.
In the case at hand, however, Friend's “claim is based on alleged misrepresentations she was given while still in Missouri and Texas,” the judge wrote, adding that “a genuine question of material fact exists regarding the independence, control and relationship between” ACG and Indian-based Aegis Aspire.
The court acknowledged that the TVPA was meant to combat slavery-like conditions in the U.S. and abroad and said Friend's “claim stretches the boundaries of the intended nature and purpose of this Act.” Nonetheless, it found that she “created a narrow but genuine issue of material fact to survive summary judgment.”
The cross-shoring program was administered on-site by Aegis Aspire, while informational flyers, candidate interviews and transportation costs were provided by U.S.-based ACG, the court observed.
Friend claimed that she complained to several ACG and Aegis Aspire managers about insufficient pay and bad food. She said she asked to go home only to be told that she would lose her position in Missouri if she failed to complete the program. ACG countered that Friend arrived in India with about $4,000 and could have purchased her own flight back had she not spent that money on “cigarettes, alcohol, food and travel.”
The court found that ACG's “continued involvement with the participants in the Indian program, including their involvement with Plaintiff's complaints while she was in India, creates questions of fact with regard to their ‘independence' from the program.”
Friend “has shown sufficient facts that a jury might be persuaded by her theory of respondeat superior and agency,” the judge found, partly denying AGC's motion for summary judgment.
Friend failed, however, to support her allegations of unjust enrichment and breach of contract, the court held, granting summary judgment to the AGC defendants on these claims.
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Text of the order is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/MANDI_J_FRIEND_Plaintiff_vs_AEGIS_COMMUNICATIONS_GROUP_LLC_and_AE.
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