In Adhikari v. Daoud & Partners, Civil Action No. 4:09-CV-1237 (Adhikari I), and Adhikari v. KBR Inc., Civil Action No. 4:16-CV-2478 (Adhikari II), Cohen Milstein represented the families of twelve Nepali men and five additional surviving Nepali men who were lured from remote villages in Nepal to Jordan with the promise of well-paying hotel jobs. Instead of the promised jobs, their passports were confiscated, they were imprisoned, and then taken against their will to Iraq. Twelve of the men were killed by insurgents. The surviving men arrived at U.S. military bases in Iraq and were put to work for U.S. military contractors and subcontractors in the mess hall, stocking warehouses, and collecting garbage.
Plaintiffs alleged that after they arrived at the bases, they repeatedly appealed to employees of the military contractors that they had been brought to Iraq against their will, did not want to work at the base, and wanted their passports back so they could return home. They even went on a hunger strike in an effort to be sent home. Unfortunately, their pleas were ignored. KBR controlled access in and out of the bases. The men had no way home and each ended up in forced labor for over a year.
In Adhikari I, the district court found that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence that:
- KBR’s conduct was knowing: “KBR knew that third country national workers had been promised jobs elsewhere and transported against their will to Iraq.”
- Each victim had been trafficked and had suffered unlawful coercion: “each man was deceived about his promised job; each man was promised a hotel related job in Jordan; each man’s family took on significant debt in order to pay recruitment fees; when the men arrived in Jordan they were subject to threats and harm; their passports were confiscated; and the men were locked into a compound and threatened.”
- KBR had the authority to exercise control and did exercise control over the recruitment and supply of trafficked laborers by the labor broker.
Unfortunately, after an intervening Supreme Court decision on extraterritorial jurisdiction, that case was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. The claims in Adhikari II responded to the new jurisdictional framework.
Both cases were ultimately resolved, including, in Adhikari I, through innovative proceedings pursuant to the Defense Base Act. Agnieszka Fryszman and Matt Handley won the National Law Journal Pro Bono Award for their work in that case.
The cases received significant national and international attention, including multiple congressional hearings, and serving as the subject of a book, The Girl from Kathmandu | Twelve Dead Men and a Woman’s Quest for Justice, by Cam Simpson, published by HarperCollins (April 17, 2018) and a Chicago Tribune series, Pipeline to Peril.