NEW ORLEANS — About 350 teachers recruited in the Philippines to work in Louisiana schools are set to receive roughly $2,200 each from a 2012 federal court decision against a California placement agency.
The American Federation of Teachers, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others had sued in 2010 on behalf of teachers who complained about thousands of dollars in fees charged by Universal Placement International. Advocates said many of the teachers wound up in substandard housing.
An SPLC attorney says the money is being distributed following legal proceedings involving foreclosure and sale of some of agency owner Lourdes Navarro’s property.
“The teachers are now splitting the proceeds from that sale,” attorney Jim Knoepp said in an email Friday.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, which also pursued action on behalf of the teachers, said the Filipinos worked in Caddo, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson and Avoyelles parishes and state-run schools in New Orleans.
“This is the bittersweet ending to a sad story of exploitation,” Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter said in a news release earlier in the week.
The California lawsuit said teachers had to borrow large sums, as much as $16,000, to pay fees to the agency before they left the Philippines. More expenses followed in the U.S., including contracts requiring the teachers to pay a percentage of monthly income to the agency. Teacher advocates said passports and visas often were confiscated and held to ensure fees would be paid.
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, attorneys said 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. A lawyer for Navarro’s agency said after the 2012 verdict that there was no intentional wrongdoing. He called the lawsuit a “witch hunt.”