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Finally: Justice for exploited Filipino teachers

(Baton Rouge – October 25, 2017) After years of litigation, approximately 350 Filipino teachers who were held in virtual bondage in Louisiana by a placement agency are slated to receive money from a class action lawsuit against the recruiter and her company. Each teacher will receive approximately $2,200.00.

“This is the bittersweet ending to a sad story of exploitation,” said Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Larry Carter. “While these teachers can never be properly compensated for their suffering, we have at least validated the rule of law and sent a strong message to those who would profit from such human trafficking.”

The money is the result of a 2010 ruling by the Louisiana Workforce Commission ordering Universal Placement International and its principal, Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, to repay Filipino teachers an estimated $1.8 million in illegally charged placement fees, as well as a $500 fine and $7,500 in attorney fees.

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers joined forces with American Federation of Teachers and the Southern Poverty Law Center, representing the teachers in a case that began in 2009. They were hired in Caddo Parish, East Baton Rouge Parish, Jefferson Parish and the State Recovery School District in New Orleans.

The original complaint to the Workforce Commission said that Navarro conducted a “psychologically coercive and financially ruinous trafficking scheme that subjected the teachers to exorbitant debt and forced labor.”

Some of those teachers arrived in the U.S. to find that the promised jobs were not available. Eventually some wound up in Avoyelles Parish and other school districts around the state.

Each teacher was charged about $5,000 by Navarro in placement fees to obtain a job, and was then required to sign a contract obligating them to pay 10 percent of their second year salaries to the company.

Teachers who could not afford to pay the fees up front were directed to loan companies by Navarro, and were charged exorbitant interest rates. She confiscated their passports and visas to ensure that the fees, which amounted to more than a teacher’s annual salary in the Philippines, would be paid.

In addition to collecting the fee from teachers, Navarro was paid $47,500 by the State Department of Education to recruit teachers for the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

Many of the Filipino teachers were required to live in substandard, roach infested apartments arranged by Navarro, and were threatened with retaliation if they complained about their conditions. Many of the teachers were Federation members, and despite those threats, sought relief from Navarro’s scheme.

LFT and AFT partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center to seek justice for Navarro’s victims. Following the 2010 ruling by then-Administrative Law Judge Shelly Dick, which was upheld by 19th Judicial District Judge Janice Clark, actions were taken to seize Navarro’s assets and distribute the proceeds to the teachers.

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