Lamothe Law Firm has filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Louisiana against Aramark which has the potential to set important legal precedent and impact the legal landscape for survivors of sex trafficking.
The lawsuit alleges that a director at Aramark recruited the plaintiff for a position there with false promises of good pay and fair working conditions. The Director’s true intention was to use his powerful position at Aramark to force the plaintiff to have sex with him upon threat of being fired. Once plaintiff was hired, the director raped her and made it clear that having sexual relations with him would now be part of her job requirement. The lawsuit alleges that this behavior violated the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 1591 – 1595), as well as the Louisiana Victims of Human Trafficking Act (LSA-R.S. § 14:46.2, and LSA-R.S. § 46:2163). Under both federal and Louisiana laws against human trafficking, it is illegal to knowingly use prohibited means, such as the use of force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion, to cause someone to engage in a commercial sex act.
The lawsuit further alleges that Aramark knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that the director was using his position at Aramark to force the plaintiff to have sex with him in order to keep her job, and is therefore complicit in these acts of sex trafficking. Both federal and Louisiana human trafficking laws allow lawsuits against third parties, such as private companies, who are complicit in human trafficking such as by knowingly benefitting from or assisting in human trafficking activities.
The plaintiff’s argument in the lawsuit follows the logic expressed by courts in a recent line of cases accusing Harvey Weinstein of sex trafficking. These recent cases have adopted a broad definition of the term “commercial sex act.” For example, in Noble v. Weinstein, 335 F.Supp.3d 504 (2018), the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York held that a “commercial sex act” is defined as “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.” There, Weinstein had lured an aspiring actress to a meeting with him wherein he sexually assaulted her by offering her the promise of a film role, a modeling meeting, and a continued professional relationship with his company. Weinstein argued that this action could not be defined as a commercial sexual act because nothing was exchanged since he never fulfilled his promises to the actress. The court held that the promise itself was a thing of value and allowed Noble’s sex trafficking claim against Weinstein to proceed. This line of arguments has not yet been addressed by Louisiana courts. If Louisiana adopts a similarly broad definition of “commercial sexual act,” it would be an important victory for survivors of sexual exploitation.