350 Filipino Teachers Awarded $4.5 Million

by Joseph G. Lariosa

 

CHICAGO (jGLi) – A jury awarded Tuesday (Dec. 18) $4.48-Million to 350 Filipino teachers after it found a Filipino American recruitment agency based in Los Angeles, California guilty of negligent misrepresentation and of violating the California Employment Agency Act in a class action suit filed in 2010 in the U.S. District Court in Central District of California in Los Angeles.

Atty. Dan McNeil, one of the lawyers of the case assisting the plaintiffs led by Mairi Nunag-Tanedo, informed this reporter that the jury after a two-week trial also found Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, of Glendale, CA and owner and president of Universal Placement International (UPI) based in Los Angeles, “not guilty of human trafficking.”

As of press time, there was no word as to the fates of other defendants, namely, Employer Defendants East Baton Rouge Parish School Board (EBRPSB); Charlotte D. Placide, former EBRPSS superintendent of Louisiana (LA); Millie Williams, director of personnel services of EBRPSS; and Duran Swinford, also of LA and Mississippi, agent of EBRPSS; Recruiter Defendants Hothello “Jack” Navarro, director of UPI and former and “current” husband of Lourdes Navarro; PARS International Placement Agency (PARS) based in Quezon City in the Philippines; Emilio Villarba, owners of PARS and brother of Lourdes Navarro; Legal Facilitator defendants Robert Silverman, of Westminster, C A; and Silverman & Associates; and RICO Defendants Recruiter Defendants, Individual Employer Defendants and Legal Facilitator Defendants.

According to the civil complaint pending before Judge A. Kronstadt of the United States District Court in Central District of California in Los Angeles, the defendants have been engaged in and continue to engage in ongoing contacts with Plaintiffs and other Class Members, including recruiting, obtaining labor, contracting, seeking to collect on contracts, providing immigration-related services to, transporting, harboring, providing and/or employing Plaintiffs and/or other Class Members.

Class Actions allegations by plaintiffs bring claims for damages, Injunctive, Declaratory relief on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated persons
pursuant for actual, punitive, treble, compensatory, and/or punitive damages.

LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY GROUPS HAIL JURY DECISION

A Filipino community and different Filipino American groups in Los Angeles led by Partido ng Mangagawa (Labor Party), U.S.A Alliance-Philippines (AJLPP), Bantay (Guard) – Los Angeles and Echo Park Community Coalition (EPCC) issued a joint press statement, congratulating “the hundreds of Filipino teachers for their victorious struggle against deceitful recruitment agency Universal Placement Inc. (UPI) and its owner Lourdes Navarro. 

“We are very happy that after four years of brave and sustained efforts on different fronts and winning different battles along the way, the case has
reached the federal court, which found these defendants liable for engaging in fraudulent practices.”

Ian Seruelo, U.S. liaison officer of the Partido ng Mangagawa (Labor Party), said, “In the federal class suit against Los Angeles-based UPI and Navarro, the jury awarded the teachers $4.5 million in violation of the California Employment Agency, Employment Counseling and Job Listing Act; for violation of the Unfair Business Practices under the California Business and Professional Code; and for fraud under the California Civil Code.

A reader, who goes by initials, “PT Ch,” with email address, louisianafilipinoeducators@gmail.com, and appears to be in the corner of the camp of the defendants, emailed this reporter, belittling the “$4.5” million award as “nothing if you understand the legalities of the civil case.”

Seruelo commented that if $4.5 million is “nothing well, then, they should pay (up) immediately. While money is not main reason for the class action suit, it has the effect of punishing the unlawful actions of these recruiters. Further, one of the main objectives (of the case) is to void the contract, which the teachers got. And because of this, UPI and Navarro can no longer collect fees from teachers, who can invoke the contracts as invalid. So, in all angles, this is a victory for the teachers.

“We also commend the efforts of the  Filipino Educators Federation of Louisiana (FEFL), who spearheaded the case on the teachers’ behalf, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the law firms Covington and Burling LLP, the Lawrence Rosenzweig, LLP and others who supported the teachers in their quest for justice.”

CASE STARTED IN 2007

From 2007 to 2009, more than 300 teachers from the Philippines were recruited and deployed in different school districts in Louisiana to teach science, math and special education under the H1B visa program.

After a selection process in the Philippines, the UPI’s shady recruitment scheme required each teacher to pay an amount of more than $5,000. The recruiters made it appear that this is all that they will have to pay.  However, after receiving the initial payment, the recruiters demanded more and more for different kinds of fees and charges. Having sold their properties and borrowed money to cover for the initial excessive payment, the teachers cannot back out as the recruiters would not refund those fees.

The recruiters would, then, threaten to give their slots to other applicants if additional payments were not made immediately.  In violation of the laws of the Philippines, the state of Louisiana, and now it is proven that it violated the laws of the state of California as well, each teacher ended up paying an exorbitant amounts of $16,000 and even more, the joint press statement added.

Lourdes Navarro has prior conviction and imprisonment for defrauding the California Medi-Cal system of more than $1-M and pled guilty to money laundering in New Jersey, according to court documents.

The group believes that although the decision fell short in finding UPI and Navarro guilty of violating Trafficking Victims Protection Act as “the
experiences of these Filipino teachers are not to the degree that involves violence or forced labor, it does not mean that this case is not a case of human trafficking.”

In the case of Filipino doctors Jefferson N and Elnora M. Calimlim, who were later jailed for six years and later deported to the Philippines this year after paying $916,635 restitution and $1-Million in punitive damages, the victim Irma Martinez testified that “for 19 years she was hidden in the Calimlim’s home, forbidden from going outside and told that she would be arrested, imprisoned and deported if she was discovered.

“Their vague warnings that someone might report Martinez and their false statements that they were the only ones who lawfully could employ her could reasonably be viewed as a scheme to make her believe that she or her family would be harmed if she tried to leave. That is all the jury needed to convict” the Calimlims for human trafficking, according to the records of the U. S. Eastern District Court of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs of Nunag-Tanedo, et al. case include Lawrence Rosenzweig, Brent Rosenzweig of the Lawrence Rosenzweig, PC, of Santa Monica, California; Daniel Werner, James M. Knoepp, Jennifer Tse of the Immigrant Justice Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Atlanta, Georgia; Mary C. Bauer, Sam Brooke, Morris S. Dees and Judy Bruno of Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama; Dennis B. Auerbach, Candice N. Plotkin, Jillian Willis of Covington & Burling LLP of Washington, D.C., Susan P. Johnston and Pamela A. Carter of Covington & Burling in New York; and Dan McNeil of American Federation of Teachers Legal Department in Washington, D.C.

Representing defendants are Don A. Hernandez, Martin E. Sullivan, Agnes Markarian and Kristin Petersen. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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