A federal judge in Southern California has awarded $4.48 million to 347 Filipinos because a Los Angeles company violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by tricking them into slave labor as teachers in Louisiana public schools.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Kronstadt cited "negligent misrepresentations" by LA's Universal Placement International, Inc. (UPI) and PARS International Placement Agency in Quezon CIty, Philippines for the award and ordered the teacher contracts "null and void."
A jury sided with the class action plaintiffs in December, according to court records.
From 2007 to 2010, the defendants lured Filipino teachers to work in Louisiana under a "specialty worker" immigration program by promising they could have the jobs if they paid $5,000 to $5,500 in recruitment fees.
Only after that fee had been paid did the defendants demand that the teachers also surrender 100 percent of their salaries for the first three months on the job in places like the East Baton Rouge Parish School District, Jefferson Parish Public School System and Madison Parish School District.
The result was that the Filipinos became indentured servants to the conspiracy because they had to borrow money at rates of between 43 and 80 percent to make the payments totaling $16,000 or risk losing not just the initial fees but also their jobs.
"The teachers were systematically defrauded and exploited in the recruitment and hiring process in the Philippines by the defendants, who utilized the promise of a unique opportunity to teach in Louisiana to ensnare teachers in a psychologically coercive and financially ruinous trafficking scheme that subjected the teachers to exorbitant debt and forced labor," the August 2010 lawsuit asserted. "Once in the United States, the teachers were further abused and exploited by the defendants."
The lawsuit also blamed the Louisiana school districts for hiring UPI-owner Lourdes Navarro (a.k.a. "Lulu")--a convicted swindler--to recruit teachers from the Philippines.
The plaintiffs will also recover legal costs for the litigation, but that amount will be determined at a future hearing, according to court records inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana.