Filipino teachers win $4.5M in US suit


LOS ANGELES—A federal jury awarded $4.5 million to Filipino teachers who paid large fees to obtain United States jobs through a placement agency.

Jurors on Monday found that Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International Inc. and its owner, Lourdes Navarro, failed to properly disclose the fees for the 350 teachers who were recruited for $40,000-a-year jobs in Louisiana, mostly in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The teachers arrived in the US between 2007 and 2009 under a federal program that grants worker permits to foreigners with special skills. Most went to East Baton Rouge Parish but others went to Caddo, Jefferson and other parishes and to state-run schools in New Orleans.

In 2010, the American Federation of Teachers and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued on behalf of some teachers who complained that before ever leaving the Philippines, they had to borrow money to pay thousands of dollars charged by the company, as much as $16,000 in some cases—five times the average annual household income in the country.

The class-action suit claimed that more unexpected fees and expensive legal entanglements followed once the teachers arrived in the United States. For example, contracts were required in which the teachers agreed to pay a percentage of their monthly income to Universal, along with fees for arranging housing.

Passports and visas were confiscated to ensure the fees would be paid, the lawsuit said.

The suit claimed the threat of huge debt and loss of their visas amounted to forced labor under a federal law against human trafficking passed by Congress in 2000.

After a two-week trial, jurors rejected the human trafficking arguments but found the recruiting agency had negligently misrepresented the fees and violated California laws governing employment agencies and unfair business acts, attorneys for both sides said.

“The jury sent a clear message that exploitative and abusive business practices involving federal guest workers will not be tolerated,” Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement.

Don A. Hernandez, a lawyer who represented the company, said there was no intentional wrongdoing by his client regarding disclosure of fees. He called the lawsuit a “witch hunt.”

“These teachers voluntarily took on whatever debt they did to pay the fees to come to the United States. They were not forced, the jury found,” he said.

Hernandez said he would seek to have the award figure reduced because the Louisiana Workforce Commission earlier awarded return of the same fees.  AP

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  • Lahi

    Tama lang na i-award sa mga teachers ang malaking halaga dahil sa pahirap na dinanas nila sa kamay ng mapagsamantalang recruiter, Pilipino pa naman. Ngayon ay siguradong siya ang baon sa utang. Kung pwede lang na maparusahan din ang mga magnanakaw na kasabwat ng mga recruiter sa POEA ay mas lalong makabubuti. Naalala ko pa noon kung bakit tumigil ang Ireland sa pagha-hire ng mga Filipino Nurses at kumuha na lang sa India ay dahil sa mga hayok na recruiter sa Pilipinas at mga magnanakaw na kasabwat sa POEA. Kami ay biktima din nila. Sana ang mga bulok sa POEA ay makunsensiya naman dahil nakaw ang ipinakakain nyo sa mga anak nyo!

    • WeAry_Bat

       Tuloy mo yan pre…Naghahanap nga ng mabuting trabaho ang tao kaysa maging kriminal, pinag-exploit pa naman.

  • redclues

    this news article is malicious. the writer is telling us the award of money because of excessive payment of placement fee and other fees the recruiter asked the teachers to pay but the grounds on which the writer is basing his lines are the grounds for human trafficking which the jury has dismissed. the jury found the human trafficking issue as non-existent, and they excluded it from the case. it may be true that the writer is just quoting what is provided in the complaint but what he forgot to see and do is quote the right arguments and issues to support his lines of writing. the title of his article does not reflect of what the writer is trying to convey in the body of the article itself.

    • mulanay

      what the heck is redclues saying. the writer is just reporting from court records. it’s a just punishment for the greedy recruitment agency. 

    • kanoy

       he was not perfect but then only Jesus was…i have seen other articles far worse,,,he at least was in the ball park since there was a case filed for human trafficking,,,,just that the  12 member jury did not agree there was enough evidence to prove it….but the law is on California books,,,Hernandez did far worse by claiming the fees where ordered returned in Baton Rouge verdict….they where not….first off that cases and verdict was filed by and for 10 teachers in Louisiana….this case covered the fees for the 350 teachers who were recruited;;;;;making Lourdea lawyer 340 clients off the ”already paid” mark
      >>>Hernandez said he would seek to have the award figure reduced because
      the Louisiana Workforce Commission earlier awarded return of the same

  • DakuAkongUtin

    Basta kapwang kayumangmang, yari kayo . Dont trust a fellow kayumangmang , sila pa ang papatay sa iyo. 

    • chuggy

      You under-educated ignoramus bigot. Ang mestizo kaya ang pinakamarunong mag-exploit. Maybe you are unaware of our Colonial past, you disgusting peasant 

      • DakuAkongUtin

        Alam ng lahat basta dugong kayumangmang o kayukurakot ay gumaganti kahit sino ka man. Kung taga Luzon ka,  ang tingin sa taga Visayas at Mindanao ay maliliit. Kaya it carries on wherever they go. Ang mga taga Luzon ay feeling elite daw, dios ko santa maria.   Mas maraming bisaya speakers sa Pinas compared to tagaleglegs. Pweeee ninyo …..

  • Rovingmoron

    It will serve as a good lesson to Filipino-owned agencies that they suffer the same fate if they will continue to ignore federal and state labor laws. Kung sino pa yung Pinoy ay sya din ang nagpapahirap sa kapwa nya. Tamaan sana kayo ng kidlat!

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