Firm Defeats Trafficking Claim in $15 Million Lawsuit

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The jury squarely rejects plaintiffs’ claims that UPI's practices involved indentured servitude.

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“We are grateful for the jury’s careful consideration of the claims...”

Following a hard-fought two-year battle, the litigation team at Hernandez, Schaedel & Associates successfully defeated a human trafficking claim brought against its clients by a class of teachers. HS&A defended a California-based recruitment agency, Universal Placement International, Inc. and its owner, Lourdes Navarro, in a $15 million class action lawsuit brought against the company and Ms. Navarro by a class of 347 Filipino teachers. Mairi Nunag-Tañedo, et al v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, et al (U.S.D.C. C.D. Cal. Civ.No. 10-01172-JAK-MLG.)

The Court documents established that between 2007 and 2009, UPI and Ms. Navarro assisted the Filipino teachers in obtaining teaching positions in several public school districts throughout Louisiana. The teachers commenced their lawsuit against UPI and Navarro, as well as a Louisiana School district and district officials in 2010. In their Second Amended Complaint filed in the District Court, the plaintiffs alleged that UPI and Navarro, and the other defendants, had violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589, et seq. The TVPA prohibits, among other things, a person from knowingly providing or obtaining the labor or services of a person “by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint… serious harm or threats of serious harm, … abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process, or … by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint.” 15 U.S.C. § 1589(a). As articulated by Congress when it passed the original version of the TVPA in 2000, the purpose of the statute was to “strengthen efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, including women and children, in the U.S. and abroad, in response to concerns about criminal international trafficking networks which use force, fraud, or coercion to cause individuals to engage in prostitution or subject individuals to involuntary servitude or slavery-like conditions.” The teachers also alleged in their Second Amended Complaint that UPI failed to disclose certain fees to them during the recruitment process in the Philippines.

The two-week trial in federal court in Los Angeles, California concluded on Monday with the jury finding in favor of UPI and Ms. Navarro on the central TVPA claim brought by the teachers. After day-long deliberations, the panel of seven jurors unanimously concluded that neither UPI nor Ms. Navarro had violated the TVPA as the plaintiffs had alleged. The jury squarely rejected plaintiffs’ claims that the teachers were forced to work in the Louisiana school districts as a result of the debt that they had incurred in order to pay the processing and placement fees required to legally work in the United States. Instead, the jury awarded the teachers far less than the money they had demanded based on UPI’s technical violations of the California Employment Agency Act, a rarely-enforced California statute, due to the company’s unintentional failure to give the teachers a written list of the fees they would have to pay. The jury also rejected the plaintiffs’ request for punitive damages, finding that defendants’ conduct was not willful, malicious, or oppressive.

The jury’s verdict was a decisive victory for Hernandez, Schaedel & Associates as the case involved the first time the TVPA was applied to a class. Don A. Hernandez stated, “We are grateful for the jury’s careful consideration of the claims and are proud of the firm’s efforts in litigating against 16 attorneys from four different firms.”

The HS&A team representing the defendants included Don A. Hernandez, Agnès Markarian Sullivan, Kristin Petersen, and Martin Sullivan with litigation support from Amanda Smith and Christina Paquette.

HS&A is an elite firm emphasizing business litigation, employment law, intellectual property, and healthcare. For further information regarding any of the claims mentioned above, or for general business advice, please call 626-440-0022 or visit http://www.hernlaw.com.

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Don A. Hernandez
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