Marichu De Sesto supporters decry anti-Semitism charge: ‘It’s not about religion’

De Sesto holds a banner at a rally outside the Park Avenue apartment building of her former employer.

De Sesto holds a banner at a rally outside the Park Avenue apartment building of her former employer.

In our June 5 issue, The FilAm reported on the response of defense lawyers to Marichu de Sesto’s accusations of unpaid wages and unfair termination against her former employer, Elyse Slaine. (“Defense hurls anti-Semitism charges in labor dispute between Marichu De Sesto and Manhattan socialite”) Supporters of De Sesto denounced the defense for “bringing religion into the conversation.”

We are publishing below separate statements from Damayan Migrant Workers Association and the organizations Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

Dear Editor,

As an organization that works with and organizes Filipino domestic workers who routinely face abuse and exploitation, we were surprised to see the accusations of anti-Semitism made by domestic worker Marichu De Sesto’s former employer (“Defense hurls anti-Semitism charges in labor dispute between Marichu De Sesto and Manhattan socialite,” June 5).

Ms. De Sesto approached Damayan in September 2014 knowing that Damayan is a Filipino migrant workers’ organization that has been successful in supporting worker fights to recover their wages when they have been exploited at work. As we typically do in campaigns when the employer has so many more resources than we do, we formed a coalition that included the workers’ rights organization Justice First, other domestic worker organizations, as well as our long-time ally Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). Damayan staunchly condemns anti-Semitism, and at no point, in any part of any conversation, did the religion of Ms. De Sesto’s employer come up. It is outrageous and absurd that the attorneys for Elyse Slaine are bringing up her religion now in the context of the lawsuit. It has nothing to do with Ms. De Sesto’s valid labor claims.

The complaint filed by Ms. De Sesto and the violations she describes are common in the industry and well documented by research. According to a report by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), 25 percent of domestic workers who were fired from a domestic-work job cited that their termination was due to their request to take time off. Forty percent of nannies and caregivers worked more than 40 hours for their primary employer, while only 15 percent were guaranteed overtime pay. Damayan has handled over 70 cases of exploitation, from wage theft to trafficking, and failure to pay overtime is the most common labor violation.

If we are to change these dismal statistics, we must organize the workers and support them when they are courageous enough to go public and face abusive employers. These accusations of anti-Semitism are an effort to distract the court and the public from the real story of a domestic worker whose 15 years of service were so blatantly disregarded and devalued. The accusations are also designed to silence Ms. De Sesto and the organizations that support her. Ms. De Sesto, as well as any worker and any person, has the right to organize around workplace issues. Every worker has the right to join labor organizations and to pass out flyers. Every person has the right to peaceably assemble and organize protests. These are important human rights and civil liberties that are under attack by Ms. Slaine’s accusations, and we have every intention to continue to support Ms. De Sesto and any worker who wants to organize with Damayan.


Linda Oalican
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Damayan Migrant Workers Association

Dear Editor,

Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, together representing tens of thousands of Jews, including thousands of rabbis and other Jewish leaders in New York City and around the country, call on Elyse Slaine and her lawyers to drop their offensive tactic of smearing Marichu de Sesto and the Damayan Migrant Workers Association with accusations of anti-Semitism after Ms. de Sesto’s brought a labor complaint against her former employer.

As longtime partners of Damayan, we stand with them in their efforts to protect the rights of workers such as Ms. De Sesto, who was formerly employed by Ms. Slaine as a domestic worker, and who has charged Ms. Slaine with violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, including unpaid overtime wages, unpaid earned wages, failure to provide pay stubs, breach of contract, and other charges. The fact of Ms. Slaine’s Jewishness has nothing to do with the case. Neither Damayan nor Ms. De Sesto has ever referenced Ms. Slaine’s religious or ethnic background. In fact, it was Ms. Slaine’s lawyer who introduced this issue into the dispute.

Anti-Semitism remains a dangerous and all-too-common phenomenon. As Jewish organizations, we are committed to fighting anti-Semitism in our communities. However, raising the spectre of anti-Semitism in order to avoid addressing real labor violations is a callous and dangerous approach that threatens Jewish communities dealing with very real manifestations of anti-Semitism. We will not allow our community’s struggle for safety to be used as an ungrounded defense or intimidation strategy.

We stand behind Ms. De Sesto and Damayan in their efforts to secure fair compensation for the legal complaints against Ms. Slaine, and to protect the rights of other domestic workers to fair wages and working conditions.


Marjorie Dove Kent
Executive Director, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice

Jill Jacobs
Executive Director, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

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One Comment

  1. Evelyn Serrell wrote:

    Powerful story. Brave woman.

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