The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [decision] Friday that a Vermont man suing the state under the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution [Cornell LII backgrounder] for labor he was forced to do while awaiting trial in jail will be able to proceed with his suit in federal district court. Finbar McGarry, a former graduate student at the University of Vermont, was arrested in December 2008 for allegedly firing a gun in his home and threatening to kill his family [ABC News report]. McGarry filed suit against Vermont arguing that the state violated his rights under the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, when it forced him to work at a state correctional facility while he awaited trial. In 2009 the US District Court for the District of Vermont [official website] dismissed McGarry's claim saying that the situation McGarry faced was nothing like slavery. The Second Circuit, however, overruled the district court, declaring that McGarry did not need to prove that he faced slavery-like conditions:
Contrary to the district court's conclusion, it is well-settled that the term "involuntary servitude" is not limited to chattel slavery-like conditions. The amendment was intended to prohibit all forms of involuntary labor, not solely to abolish chattel slavery.McGarry filed the $11 million lawsuit pro se. Vermont has 90 days to appeal the Second Circuit's ruling to the US Supreme Court [official website].
Forced labor and slavery are serious legals issue worldwide. Earlier this week the UK High Court ruled [JURIST report] that two government back-to-work schemes do not constitute forced labor. Last week the International Labor Organization (ILO) [official website] Domestic Workers Convention (DWC) [text] was ratified by the Philippines, giving the international treaty its second ratification and paving the way for the convention to enter full force of law. Domestic workers are frequent victims of forced labor, and the ILO created the DWC to set the first global standards for domestic workers worldwide to ensure they receive generally the same protections available to other workers [JURIST report] such as weekly days off, work hour limits, limits on in-kind payment, minimum wage, clear information on terms and conditions of employment, and other benefits. In June the ILO released a report on forced labor, estimating that nearly 21 million people around the world work in forced labor [JURIST report] and noting that women represent 55 percent of forced laborers worldwide. The agency adopted the DWC [JURIST report] at last year's annual meeting of ILO member states, the 100th Session of the International Labor Conference [official website]. The ILO is a specialized agency of the UN.