Filipino teachers’ recruiter sued for exploitation

By Melinda Deslatte
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (AP) — A class-action lawsuit filed Thursday accuses a Los Angeles-based company of a human trafficking scheme to bring hundreds of Filipino teachers to Louisiana public schools using exploitative contracts that charged them excessive, illegal fees.

Universal Placement International Inc. and its owner Lourdes Navarro are accused of racketeering and fraud in a lawsuit that the American Federation of Teachers and the Southern Poverty Law Center said they filed in a California federal court on behalf of 350 teachers.

“We were herded onto a path, a slowly constricting path, where the moment you realize that something is not right, you were already past the point of no return,” said Ingrid Cruz, one of the teachers named as a plaintiff in the case, reading from a prepared statement. Cruz teaches science and robotics classes at a Baton Rouge-area middle school.

The lawsuit says the company illegally required the teachers to pay thousands of dollars in fees to be hired for jobs mainly in East Baton Rouge Parish, but also in Caddo, Jefferson, and other parishes and in state-run schools in New Orleans.

Teachers were saddled with crippling debts, placed into shoddy housing, and threatened with deportation if they complained, said Daniel McNeil, a lawyer for the AFT, equating the conditions to forced labor and indentured servitude.

“This is far closer to slavery than we should be willing to tolerate,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Questions to Universal Placement International about the lawsuit were directed to a Los Angeles-based attorney who didn’t immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press.

Each teacher had to pay about $16,000 before ever leaving the Philippines — five times the average annual household income in the country, the lawsuit alleges. If they couldn’t afford the fees, teachers borrowed money, in many instances from lenders recommended by the recruiting firm who charged hefty interest rates.

More fees and expensive legal entanglements followed once the teachers arrived in the United States, the lawsuit claims, like contracts in which the teachers agreed to pay a percentage of their monthly income to Universal and fees for arranging housing. Passports and visas were confiscated to ensure the fees would be paid, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit — also filed against Universal’s sister operation in the Philippines, PARS International Placement Agency — seeks a refund of all fees paid by teachers and damages totaling millions.

Also named in the lawsuit are the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and several current and former school system administrators, including former Superintendent Charlotte Placide. They are accused of ignoring the alleged abuses and in some cases, assisting the recruiting company with illegal behavior.

“It was more than turning a blind eye. They actively participated in what was going on,” Bauer said.

A spokesman for the EBR Parish School System issued a statement saying the system hasn’t officially been served with the lawsuit and couldn’t respond to the allegations.

“The school system values all of its employees and takes every precaution to ensure their tenure in our school district is a positive and mutually beneficial experience for the employee and the students they serve,” said Chris Trahan, system communications director.

Complaints about Universal Placement International and Navarro date back to last October, when the Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed complaints with state authorities alleging the company was operating illegally in the state and charging teachers exorbitant fees.

In April, a state labor department judge ordered the company to refund fees that the LFT estimates will total $1.8 million. The company’s attorney said that ruling would be appealed. ♦

5 Responses to “Filipino teachers’ recruiter sued for exploitation”

  1. javepauellas says:

    F.E.F.L. – We are a group of teachers fighting for our cause which means, ‘Filipino Educators Frivolous Lawsuit’ ‘FEFL’. Ingrid Cruz has failed severly in her California depositon under oath.\

    She, Igrid has marked the Class Action suit as a losing battle against the defendants.

    Remember, F.E.F.L. means ‘Filipino Educators Frivolous Lawsuit’.

  2. jave says:

    We were herded onto a path, a slowly constricting path, where the moment you realize that something is not right, you were already past the point of no return,” said Ingrid Cruz, she also remembers being in a maze of clouds and fog sorrunding her, which was cold and sinful. She was confused with voices and images that speaks lightly in the dark.

    Now, during her California deposition ‘Under Oath’ she could not remember anything she said on her declaration. She also said that the human trafficking did not happen, nor the racketeering, no mail and wire fraud, no slavery, and no physical and mental injury, no one force her to leave on dilapidated living quarters, and no personal harm. She said that the defendants did nothing wrong. She is one of the Plaintiffs. The other four (4) plaintiffs said similar situations but not the same. The other plaintiff said the her employer and school principal are good and she can’t complain.

    The other plaintiff said that he like his employer and was surprised when he found out that her recruiter helped him save his job on his second year of employment by writing to the school officials to hire him back.

    And they did show the documented evidence based on the email presented during the deposition. He was shock when he found out. He is complaining about his recruiter when in fact, the recruiter save his job. (the documented evidence showed that he will not be hired the following year, however, her recruiter insisted to give him another chance or another year of employment). The school complied and gave him a second chance…

  3. TruthWatch says:

    Truth About Lies says: On the second year of employment, they were surprised by the 2nd year to pay 10%…

    TruthWatch: Hmmm.. are you telling us that we never read and comprehend the UPI contract and never saw the same exact contract we sign in the Philippines and California? It’s so clear that UPI gave us ample time (one-year) to pay our debts back home and only require us to pay 10% of our salary on the 2nd year of EMPLOYMENT ON A MONTHLY BASIS!

    Your group has decided to skip away from your legal financial contracts by seeking help from the Union and filing frivolous multiple complaints that bear nothing…. ha.ha. run run away and hide under… but sooner or later the TRUTH will SET your GROUP FREE.

    And oh yes, we are afraid to get fired from our employers because my family and love ones goes first. Not our pride of lies to enriched ourselves.

  4. Truth About Lies says:

    Truthwatch is also a Filipino who has vested interest to cover up the respondents for his personal gains over the agony of his countrymen.One who is blinded with greed trying to save himself so that EBR will grant him a green card.

    Here’s the truth about his lies…

    1. Filipino teachers paid 20% prior to departure.This was in compliance of the obligation. During the second year, everyone where surprised of this additional 10%, so that we seek help from the union. It wasn’t just a few, but the majority. The “few” who remained in silence were those who just didn’t want to be bothered including TRUTHWATCH…because some of them were at their 3rd year and hopeful to be offered by EBR a green card. Who would ever want to pay another 10% when we weren’t even done paying our debts to pay the 20% back in the Philippines? We all found this oppressive including Truthwatch. But, his hidden motive was more important than to seek justice. At the onset of the outraged, many Filipino teachers were marching for some relief. The case was filed and was decided under the Louisiana workforce commission. The UPI was demanded to pay 1.8 million.

    2. The agency appealed because they just wanted to delay the case and of course trying to get away with the crime committed. Just like how Lulu Navarro got away from her previous case.Truthwatch was a puppet of two masters, the agency and those who were accomplice to the crime. Truthwatch sold the Filipino souls to these people for his personal gains. He was silent for those Filipino teachers who were unjustly fired. He publicly came out to the open giving comments about the case we won, as if he was one for the cause to cover his motives. He is the modern day,” Pontious Pilate”.

    3. As the truth slowly come out, the lawyers who backed the fight for justice for the Filipino teachers and the involvement of some personnel in EBR, the civil case was filed. The case caused tension to many including TRUTHWATCH fearful that their green card hopes will turn into ashes. Those who just wanted to get away from paying the 10% and be done with it became silent lambs. IT’S ALL ABOUT MONEY AND THEIR PERSONNAL GAINS!!!Slowly they back-off because they would not want EBR to be involved for fear that they will lose their job and won’t get green card. Who never want to keep the job and to get a green card? We also do. All of us who came here in the US hold that BIG DREAM.But should we just remain to live in silence and allow these kind of unjust practices to continue?

    4.THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CASE, IS THE FIGHT FOR JUSTICE AND BELIEF FOR GOOD. A few remained steadfast despite the risks.Those who just want to save themselves hoping that EBR will not count them as one of those who support the case signed a “Manifesto”. A written document of stupidity, lies and betrayal.

    5. TRUTHWATCH is in absolute dissolution.Truthwatch and those others remained to live in fear. The Filipino teachers who were brave enough to denounce this evil, live in hope and freedom from fear. Out of the experience, we came out holding on to the quest for justice that America whose Constitution we believe in will set us all free from this bondage. No Filipino teachers who were one for this case was dragged againts their will. We give consent to be represented by the lawyers.Those who didn’t give their consent, contineud to appease their conscience because they know the truth!

    6. The effecient teachers shouldn’t be afraid to be fired by EBR and not to be hired by another employer. United States of America is the mother of justice. We believe in its court proceedings and the intelligence of the judges. THE TRUTH WILL SET US ALL FREE.No healing and renegotiations are needed. TRUTH, JUSTICE and GOODNESS will always prevail. It is our civil and humane obligation to guard it regardless of race-Filipinos or Americans.

    7. This is not a sad case, but rather a joyful celebration of victory. Victory for overcoming the fears in behalf of those who willfully came to the open and be identified. A manifestation of love for freedom and justice. The kind of VALOR that many Americans lived by heart. Filipinos nor Americans who believe the same will never fear. EBR, the entity sued knows this too. The superintendent and those who work in the district in good faith, knows that the Filipinos seeking for justice also act in good faith. This is our common ground.

  5. TruthWatch says:

    The truth behind the lawsuit. It all started when a few Louisiana Filipino teachers decided to stop paying the 10% of their 2nd year of employment which is paid on a monthly basis up to 12 months only. The LWC (Louisiana Workforce Commission) allows recruitment agencies up to 25% of their salary every year. While Universal Placement on charge 10% for the first year and another 10% for the second year on a monthly pay basis.They started to encourage others to do the same because they feel they were oppressed, virtual servitude, racketerring, etc. To sum all these madness, they just don’t want to honor their financial obligations that was signed overseas (Philippines) and the same exact contract again signed in California. To cover their motives not to pay, they consulted the union AFT/LFT. The union bless them not to do their financial obligations because they have a vested interest on union monthly dues. The create a lot of smoke and havoc they filed a complaint to different government agencies about all criminal activities. After the trial, not one criminal sanctions was justified and this first lawsuit was appealed immediately. To their frustrations, they tried a class action suit (second lawsuit)to hide the financial obligation (contracts) even more. Now, the union (AFT/LFT) turned around by publishing that the FILIPINO teachers has sued their employer (EBR) because the union has a vested interest of 5 million dollars to collect in the school insurance carriers and bond. They got trick by the union by filing a class action lawsuit. Now, they have to justify how EBR, recruiters, and other key personnel managed to do FORCE labor, human trafficking and such… they are in absolute dissolution. Its hard to prove something that didn’t happen. We feel sorry for other Filipino teachers’ name that we dragged in the lawsuits without their consent either verbal or written. Although they managed to signed an opt-out (not join) affidavit in their respective school, the damaged has been done because it will be hard for these teachers to find teaching jobs anywhere. If the lawsuit is dropped, maybe there is hope for healing and re-negotiation because the only entity that may find them teaching jobs is the same entity they are suing. sad case.

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