Trafficked Filipino teachers ask U.S. court to uphold $4.4M award
PASADENA, California–Filipino teachers who accused a Los Angeles employment recruiter of human trafficking asked an appeals court on Wednesday, November 4, to uphold a federal jury’s $4.4 million award.
A class of 347 Filipino teachers, who came to the United States to work on H-1B guest worker visas, said recruitment agencies and their agents misled them and collected millions of dollars in fees, according to Courthouse News Service. They reportedly paid up to $16,000 each to work in public schools in Louisiana.
The teachers incurred debts and the recruiters tried to silence them with threats of legal action and deportation, the teachers’ lawsuit claimed.
Louisiana school districts chose Universal International Placement, based in Los Angeles Koreatown, its president Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro and Quezon City-based PARS International Placement Agency, to recruit the teachers.
The school districts hired Navarro even though she was a convicted swindler who served time for defrauding the California Medi-Cal system of more than $1 million. She also pleaded guilty to money laundering in New Jersey, according to the August 5, 2010 complaint.
The teachers later dismissed their racketeering and fraud allegations. After a six-day trial in December 2012, the recruiters prevailed on the human trafficking claims, but the jury found that they had violated a state law governing the operation of an employment agency.
The jury also held the recruiters liable for negligent misrepresentation and unfair competition. It awarded $4.4 million in damages, according to court records. The case was filed on behalf of the teachers by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Covington & Burling law firm
Universal Placement International and Navarro appealed the judgment. In an opening brief, Navarro’s attorney Katharine Miller told the Ninth Circuit that the teachers were earning seven to 12 times more in the U.S. than in the Philippines, and that the human trafficking claim should never had been certified because it turned the jury against Navarro and Universal, denying them of a fair trial.
But the teachers’ attorney, Henry Liu, said there was no merit to the recruiters’ efforts to overturn the judgment. The appeals court took the case under submission.
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