NEW YORK—More than 200 Filipino nurses won a human-trafficking case against their employer, the owners of Sentosa group of nursing homes in New York recently.
Leading the class action suit is Rose Ann Paguirigan who, according to Attorney John Howley, was among the Filipino nurses subjected to terrible work conditions at Sentosa Nursing Homes.
But when Paguirigan tried to leave her abusive employer, she couldn’t because a provision on her contract said she could not leave unless she paid a $25,000 fine.
“So we brought a case under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), because we argued that the $25,000 penalty was illegal and it made the contract basically a contract of indentured servitude and the judges agreed with us,” said Howley.
New York federal judge Nina Gershon ruled that the owners of Sentosa — Benjamin Landa and Bent Philipson — violated the TVPA and said that it is enough grounds.
“Wala talaga silang pera so they had no choice, because they couldn’t afford to pay. Rose was very brave, she stood up and she said, 'I don’t care, let them sue me. I can no longer work in this situation. I’m going to leave.' And they did sue her and that’s when she came to us, and we counter-sued,” Howley added.
He said Filipino nurses were also treated differently than American-born nurses in part because of their immigration status.
“If you’re American-born nurse and you don’t have a financial penalty, well if they’re making you work too much, if they’re putting you in a situation where it’s under stuffed, then you just leave and you find a job with a better employer. The problem here was the nurses could not leave and find a job with a better employer unless they pay $25,000,” Howley said.
Because this is a class-action lawsuit, according to Howley, more than 200 nurses will benefit from this decision.
Legal counsel Leandro Lachica added: “The main message, don’t think that you don’t have the rights, that you are powerless, we got your back.”
The Sentosa lawyers are reportedly going to appeal the decision but only after the entire case has been decided by the federal court.
Howley said they would fight the appeal.
Meanwhile, the amount of damages and attorneys’ fees the Sentosa owners must pay the nurses are still being determined at this time.
Filipino nurses involved in the Sentosa cases may contact Howley Law Firm at (212) 601-2728.
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