In 2010, more than 361 Filipino teachers were employed by Louisiana's public schools; the company they paid to place them continues to extort a percentage of their salaries.

Judge orders fees repaid; Service recruited Filipino teachers for La. schools
April 17, 2010

An administrative judge has ordered a California-based teacher placement service to refund an estimated $1.8 million in fees the company collected from more than 361 Filipino teachers recruited to work in public schools in Louisiana.

The judge, Shelly Dick, found that the company, Universal Placement Inc., was also imposing a series of fees that violate state rules for such services. The ruling is dated Wednesday, but was not released publicly until Friday morning.

"This is more than just a victory for the Filipino teachers who were abused by the company," said Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. "It is a validation of the rule of law, and a commitment by the state of Louisiana to protect the rights of all working people."

The teachers have found their way into classrooms across the state, including more than 200 in Baton Rouge.

UPI representatives have contended that in Louisiana, as opposed to California, the company has been operating as a placement, not an employment, service.

"UPI is splitting hairs," Dick wrote, rejecting that argument.

She ordered UPI to pay a $500 fine, $7,500 in legal costs to the teachers bringing the case, and refunds to teachers charged improper fees.

Dick, however, ruled that she lacked authority to return all of the fees collected from the teachers, such as those for helping them obtain visas and other documents needed to work in the United States.

"Scrutiny of these fees is not within the regulatory authority of this commission," Dick wrote.

Dick also stopped short of nullifying the employment contracts, a step sought by the teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, which filed the original complaint with the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Dick found that such a move is beyond her jurisdiction.

Dick is an attorney who was appointed as administrative judge for this case.

Murphy Foster III, the attorney for UPI, said Dick's ruling is inconsistent with itself and fails to explain how she can demand refunds on a contract executed in California. He said his client plans to appeal the decision to the state's 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

"I will tell you that we are extremely confident that we are going to prevail in the matter," Foster said.

If the case heads to district court, the contract nullification issue could resurface. Foster, however, said he's not worried.

Dick said she has no authority to impose criminal penalties on UPI for acting without a proper license, but any person found guilty of such a charge faces a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission plans to refer the matter to the state Attorney General's Office to see if it wants to pursue any further civil or criminal litigation.

"We're not going to tolerate the unlicensed and improper business activities found in this case," LWC Executive Director Curt Eysink said. "This case underscores the need to vigorously enforce our statutes so that licensed businesses can operate on a level playing field and so that the people who are placed are treated fairly."

Ingrid Cruz, a teacher at Scotlandville Pre-Engineering Academy, a middle school, said the ruling was gratifying.

"We were kind of expecting it because we know what we claim is true," Cruz said.

At an April 5 hearing, the teacher union presented evidence showing teachers have paid UPI and a sister company up to $9,000 each for the company to process paperwork and make arrangements for jobs in Louisiana.

Cruz said the UPI and its manager, Lourdes "Lulu" Navarro, who is a convicted felon, continue to pursue her and other teachers, seeking up to 10 percent of their annual salaries each year.

"We just want the contract nullified and have this agency out of our lives, because one way or another she (Navarro) finds a way to harass us teachers," Cruz said.

Cruz said she expects more legal battles to come.

"I know this battle is not yet over, we have a long way to go," she said. "She (Navarro) is not the kind of person who gives up easily."

The Filipino teachers, despite everything, still make much more in the United States than they make back home.

"We were recruited. We were invited to teach here, because there's this scarcity," said Mairi Tanedo, a teacher at Magnolia Woods Elementary. "And we will not deny it: the pay is so inviting."

Tanedo said Filipino teachers will adjust to tough circumstances, but they will also fight when necessary.

"As teachers, there is a certain value of principle that is embedded in our blood," she said, "and we really need to stand up for ourselves."

Copyright 2010, The Advocate / Capital City Press LLC

Additional Reading
  • Sarah Carr, "Recruiting agency accused of extortion; Fillipinos say they paid dearly to teach in La." The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, October 2, 2009, National, p. 1.

  • Will Sentell, "Union: Recruiters cheated foreign teachers," The Advocate, Baton Rouge, October 2, 2009, Capitol News Bureau News, p. 1A.

  • Charles Lussier, "EBR fires Filipino teachers," The Advocate, Baton Rouge, June 9, 2009, South LA. & Business, p. 1B.

From: Charles Lussier, "Judge orders fees repaid; Service recruited Filipino teachers for La. schools," The Advocate, Baton Rouge, April 17, 2010 South LA. & Business, p. 1B.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.