The attorney for a former housekeeper to the Lebanese ambassador to the United States is challenging the scope of diplomatic immunity laws, arguing that domestic work is outside of commercial activities relating to diplomatic responsibilities that are protected against litigation.
The Lebanese ambassador, Antoine Chedid, is facing a lawsuit (PDF) in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia brought by his family's former housekeeper, Aracli Montuya, who claims the Chedid family failed to pay minimum wage and verbally abused and mistreated her. Montuya worked in the ambassador’s residence from August 2007 to September 2009.
Chedid, represented by Mary Gately of Washington’s DLA Piper, has argued in a motion to dismiss (PDF) that he and his family are immune from such litigation by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which provides immunity against criminal, civil and administrative litigation for diplomats and their families.
In a status hearing today before U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, who recently took over the case in late March from U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts, Montuya’s attorney, Silver Spring, Md.-based solo practitioner Laurence Johnson, said he planned to challenge Gately’s assertion in briefs that the Vienna Convention protects against litigation over commercial activities relating to diplomatic responsibilities.
As a domestic worker, Johnson has argued that her job falls outside the scope of protected commercial activity. In a memorandum (PDF)opposing Chedid’s motion to dismiss, Johnson said the statute is ambiguous on the extent of protected commercial activity.
“Under Defendant’s interpretation, a diplomat could contract with a painter to paint his house or a tailor to mend his clothes and then, after the service is performed, refuse to pay,” Johnson wrote.
Gately, in supporting the motion to dismiss (PDF), notes that numerous courts have rejected similar cases in the past, finding that “the hiring of personnel to work in an embassy is incidental to the diplomat’s diplomatic status, and is not a commercial or profit making activity.” The Chedid family is also denying any of the underlying allegations, Gately said after the hearing.
Boasberg said he is still reviewing filings in the case and considering the pending motion to dismiss, so no further court dates were scheduled.