eHarmony Slavery Case Moves Forward in San Francisco

Categories: Law & Order
Meanwhile, in Clear Lake...
Eagle-eyed readers may recall a horrifying May lawsuit from a Russian-born mother and daughter who claim what started as an eHarmony romance ended as backbreaking, sexually charged slavery at the hands of a cruel taskmaster and his 400-pound grown son.

Natalya Shuvalova and her daughter, Liza, claim Natalya's eHarmony-spawned husband, Joe Cunningham, put them to work -- in more ways than one -- on his Clear Lake property. A San Francisco federal judge last week dismissed a bevy of the Shuvalova's claims against the Cunninghams -- but allowed the forced labor portion of their complaint to move forward.

In the suit -- which is worth reading -- the Shuvalovas paint Joe Cunningham as a modern-day Simon LeGree and recall scenes worthy of Uncle Tom's Cabin -- only far more sexually perverse.

Following Natalya and Joe's marriage in May of 2008, the plaintiffs claim they were made to hoist earth, rocks and soil for up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week without water or rest. The Russians say they were threatened with verbal abuse, death, and the weapons and knives that were around the house. The Cunninghams would only let the women leave the property to attend church with them weekly.

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As for Liza, then 16, Cunningham allegedly prevented her from going to school until mid-September of 2008, and forced her to "massage his naked body" behind closed and often locked doors several times a week. At one point, Liza was purportedly kept from going to a doctor for an ear infection, instead being forcibly restrained while a "homemade remedy" was inserted into her ear.

Cunningham's 35-year-old son, Daniel, who "claims to weigh 400 pounds and is well over six feet tall," according to the suit, routinely grabbed at Liza's crotch, buttocks and breasts, forced her to sit on his lap, forcibly kissed her and fondled her, and stared at her while she was dressing. 

The two women managed to sneak off the property in September 2008 and escape to a women's shelter. They now reside in San Francisco, where they filed charges under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), The Fair Labor Standards Act, and the California Labor Code. 

While Judge Richard Seeborg felt the women have a case regarding forced labor under the TVPRA, he dismissed all claims against Dan Cunningham; all trafficking claims ("As pled, plaintiffs have not stated a distinct claim for trafficking, as opposed to forced labor"); and contended the Cunninghams did not violate labor laws, as Joe was Natalya's husband and not her "employer."  

In all, 17 of the women's 18 complaints were dismissed, though some may be readdressed with a refiling within 20 days. In the meantime, Joe Cunningham is presumably still single -- and looking.

H/T   |   Courthouse News

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