A federal judge has ruled that our client’s human trafficking and breach of contract claims will proceed against a group of nursing homes in New York City and Long Island.

The complaint alleges that the Sentosa group of nursing homes recruited more than 350 nurses in the Philippines to work in this country under contracts of indentured servitude. Once the nurses arrived in the United States, the defendants refused to pay the prevailing wages required by their employment contracts.

The contracts required the nurses to pay or work off a $25,000 “contract termination fee” before they could stop working for the nursing homes. When some nurses tried to leave, the defendants filed baseless lawsuits, criminal charges, and professional disciplinary complaints against them. The Sentosa defendants even sued a lawyer representing the nurses claiming that his legal advice constituted a tortious interference with the nursing homes’ contracts.

All of the nursing homes’ claims were ultimately dismissed, but not before the nurses went through the stress and expense of defending themselves. Our client responded by commencing a class action against the Sentosa defendants for violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and breach of contract.

U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon has now rejected the Sentosa defendants’ motion to dismiss the trafficking and breach of contract claims.

Threats of Serious Financial Harm and Abusive Lawsuits Violate the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act prohibits the use of threats of serious financial harm to exert pressure on foreign professionals to continue working for an employer. Judge Gershon found that the $25,000 “contract termination fee” fell within the Act’s definition of “serious financial harm.”

The Act also prohibits the abuse of law or legal proceedings to pressure foreign employees to continue working. Judge Gershon found that the defendants’ pursuit of lawsuits, criminal charges, and disciplinary complaints will be considered “abusive” if the purpose was “to send a message to all foreign nurses that they will incur liability and substantial attorneys’ fees if they stop working for the defendants.”

The complaint alleges that the defendants benefited from these threats by paying the Filipino nurses less than the prevailing wage they were entitled to receive under their employment contracts.

The statute of limitations for trafficking claims is 10 years. We have filed a motion for class certification to pursue these claims on behalf of all Filipino nurses who worked for the Sentosa nursing homes at any time since December 23, 2008.

The case is Paguirigian v. Prompt Nursing Employment Agency LLC, et al., No. 1:17 Civ. 1302 (NG) (JO) (E.D.N.Y.). Plaintiff’s attorneys are John Howley and Leandro B. Lachica of The Howley Law Firm. They may be contacted at (212) 601-2728.

Update: This case was resolved when a judge ruled all of the defendants – including the individual owners of the Sentosa nursing homes – were personally liable for damages to the more than 200 nurses caused by violations of the anti-trafficking statute.  She also enjoined the defendants from attempting or threatening to enforce the contract termination penalty. Learn more here. 

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