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Jury awards $4.5 million to Filipino teachers

LOS ANGELES — A federal jury awarded $4.5 million to Filipino teachers who paid large fees to obtain U.S. jobs through a placement agency.

Jurors on Monday found that Los Angeles-based Universal Placement International Inc. and its owner, Lourdes Navarro, failed to properly disclose the fees for the 350 teachers who were recruited for $40,000-a-year jobs in Louisiana, mostly in East Baton Rouge Parish.

The teachers arrived in the U.S. between 2007 and 2009 under a federal program that grants worker permits to foreigners with special skills. Most went to the East Baton Rouge Parish, but others went to Caddo, Jefferson and other parishes and to state-run schools in New Orleans.

In 2010, the American Federation of Teachers and the Southern Poverty Law Center sued on behalf of some teachers who complained that before ever leaving the Philippines they had to borrow money to pay thousands of dollars charged by the company, as much as $16,000 in some cases — five times the average annual household income in the country.

The class-action suit claimed that more unexpected fees and expensive legal entanglements followed once the teachers arrived in the United States. For example, contracts were required in which the teachers agreed to pay a percentage of their monthly income to Universal, along with fees for arranging housing.

 
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