LOS ANGELES (AP) – A federal jury awarded $4.5 million to Filipino teachers who paid large fees to obtain U.S. 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 U.S. between 2007 and 2009 under a federal program that grants worker permits to foreigners with special skills. Most went to the 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, the law firm Covington and Burling LLC, 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. That’s 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.
A judge earlier dismissed the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board as a defendant in the case.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Skin Cancer in Arizona: Stats, facts and new immunotherapy drugs making strides
- Caring Crisis: Rising tide In Alzheimer’s disease leads to shortage of caregivers
- Distracted walking injuries end up not so funny
- Scary situations: 5 quick tips before you let a contractor in your home
- Four ways telemedicine is changing the health care industry
- 5 mistakes homeowners make in the spring
- Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona's waterways
- Smart home basics: things you need to know to get started
- 5 Surprising things causing back pain
- Arizona agriculture is a $17.1B industry
- Timeline: Arizona's roots in brewing history
- 5 reasons to love the D-backs this season
- Tips for taking your home entertainment experience to the backyard
- Tech-related injuries your parents never experienced
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments
- Here’s why Gaydos went tankless with his water heater
- Bocce ball and basketball: How you can help Arizona's Special Olympics athletes
- Tips on building the best wine room in Arizona
- Avoid the nightmare: 6 tips to choose a great contractor
- Breast cancer: Improved testing and treatments means more survivors
- Failed back surgery: New hope for patients living in pain