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Court rules NY nursing homes threatened Filipino nurses

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Views from the Edge

A federal judge in New York has found the owners of the city’s largest network of for-profit nursing homes has violated the United States’ anti-trafficking law by using threats of serious harm against more than 200 nurses from the Philippines.

The Sentosa group told nurses who wanted to quite their jobs they had to stay with the company or face getting hit with $25,000 lawsuits.

US District Judge Nina Gershon found that the nursing homes’ owners, Benjamin Landa and Bent Philipson, are personally liable for violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits the use of threats of serious harm or abuse of legal process to obtain the labor or services of a person.

“Today, our clients won justice,” Manhattan lawyer John Howley, who represented the class of more than 200 Filipinos nurses, told The STAR. “Next stop is calculating damages, including the nurses’ legal expenses and attorneys’ fees, which will be determined in a separate proceeding.”

The lawsuit was brought by Rose Ann Paguirigan in March 2017 on behalf of more than 200 nurses who were recruited in the Philippines to work at Sentosa nursing homes . 

Gershon found that the nursing homes and their recruiters violated the anti-trafficking statute by threatening to enforce a $25,000 contract termination penalty against Filipino nurses who wanted to stop working, by filing baseless professional disciplinary complaints against nurses who did stop working, and by asking the Suffolk County District Attorney to obtain indictments for “endangering the welfare of patients” against 10 nurses who stopped working – indictments that were found to be unconstitutional.

Paguirigan presented evidence that the Filipino nurses were not paid the prevailing wages promised in their employment contracts and that they were required to work in unsafe conditions with inadequate staffing.

Paguirigan also presented evidence that the nursing homes and their recruiters used threats of serious harm to keep the nurses from leaving.
“The nurses in this lawsuit were all recent arrivals from the Philippines. They were not paid the prevailing wage and a base salary, despite the terms of their contracts,” wrote Gershon in her ruling. 

“Critically, if [plaintiff] or any other nurse wanted to stop working for the defendants during the first year of the contract, he or she would have to pay the employer $25,000 pursuant to the liquidated damages provision. This provision constitutes a threat of sufficiently serious financial harm to compel a reasonable person of the same background and in the same circumstances to perform or to continue performing labor or services in order to avoid incurring that harm.” 

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