US judge holds Bangladesh diplomat, wife in default

NEW YORK: A Manhattan federal judge on Thursday held a Bangladesh diplomat and his wife in default for wilfully ignoring a lawsuit by a former domestic worker who claimed they forced him to work without pay in slavery-like conditions.

US District Judge Sidney Stein said Monirul Islam and Fahima Tahsina Prova acted with "sustained recalcitrance" in refusing for more than a year to attend depositions, turn over documents and otherwise cooperate in the lawsuit brought by the plaintiff Mashud Parves Rana.

"A default judgement is harsh and is not imposed by this court without hesitation," Stein wrote. "The court has waited fifteen months for defendants to participate in this litigation and has given them numerous opportunities to alter course.

Islam and Prova have utterly failed to participate in discovery in this action. A default judgement is appropriate."

Stein is expected to schedule a hearing to determine damages.

The defendants could not immediately be located for comment, and it is unclear whether they hired new lawyers after their prior counsel withdrew from the case in March.

Rana, a Bangladesh citizen, accused Islam and Prova of luring him to work for them in New York by promising to pay $3,000 a month and renew his visa.

Instead, he said he was never paid during his 1-1/2 years of employment despite working 16- to 20-hour days, was forbidden from leaving the defendants' apartment, and was subjected with death threats if he tried to escape.

Islam is a former New York consul general of Bangladesh. He later became Bangladesh's ambassador to Morocco, and in January 2016 was named as Bangladesh's ambassador to Ethiopia.

Emily Shea, a lawyer for Rana, said her client will seek damages for back pay and emotional distress, plus punitive damages.

"We're very pleased that the defendants will finally be held accountable for their appalling actions," she said.

The Bangladesh Consulate General in New York, which is not a defendant, was not immediately available for comment.