A federal judge in Kansas has awarded a human trafficking survivor nearly $8 million in damages in a federal lawsuit against a “regimented cult” and the group’s leader, who forced her to work without pay, benefits or breaks for a decade from the time she was 11. McGuireWoods’ Elizabeth Hutson represents Kendra Ross pro bono in the case, one of the largest single-plaintiff trafficking awards in American history.
Ross alleged in her complaint that The Value Creators Inc., formerly known as The United Nation of Islam (UNOI), and its leader, Royall Jenkins, forced her to work more than 40,000 uncompensated hours from 2002 until her 2012 escape from the cult. Jenkins profited from unpaid, trafficked laborers who toiled around-the-clock at UNOI businesses and for Jenkins’ family enterprises.
Ross was forced to live in a UNOI-run “women’s household” in Kansas City, where she was fed only rice, fruit, beans and salad and received no medical attention for her malnourishment. Through age 14, she worked double duty as a bakery worker and a maid. At 16, Ross was sent to Atlanta to work by day in a restaurant, then cook and clean for a household of about 15 people. Several years later, UNOI dispatched her to New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Tennessee, along the way placing her into an arranged marriage with a UNOI member who practiced polygamy.
Ross’ ordeal ended when UNOI began to fracture and she received guidance from outside family members and nonprofit organizations that had learned of her treatment. She escaped UNOI at the age of 21 and underwent medical treatment and psychological counseling after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hutson and McGuireWoods filed suit to redress harms to Ross. On May 23, U.S. District Judge Daniel D. Crabtree granted Ross’ motion for default judgment and awarded her nearly $8 million in damages, plus costs and attorneys’ fees.
“As Judge Crabtree noted, the defendants stole Kendra Ross’ childhood, and violated her most basic human and civil rights,” said Hutson, who was assisted in the case by McGuireWoods partners Anand Ramana and Jonathan Blank. “This opinion gives redemptive hope to Kendra, and it will be extremely useful precedent for other trafficking survivors seeking justice.”