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.
More Related Stories
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
- Looting in Oklahoma?
- Hundreds of low-wage federally contracted workers strike in D.C.
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Must-see morning clip: Barackalypse Now
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- Is Pope Francis an exorcist?
- Oklahoma death count confirmed at 24, 9 children
- Frantic parents search for children in tornado's wake
- Crews dig through rubble after deadly tornado
- 51 killed in massive Oklahoma tornado
- Don't cry climate-change wolf
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11