Counsel explains merits of human trafficking class suit vs. New York nursing home group

NEW YORK — More than 200 Filipino nurses won a human trafficking case against their employer, SentosaCare nursing home group in New York.

Leading the class action suit is a nurse named Rose Ann Paguirigan — who, according to Attorney John Howley, was among the Filipino nurses subjected to terrible work conditions.

Paguiran tried to leave her abusive employer, but a provision in her contract said she couldn’t do so unless she paid a $25,000 fine.

“So we brought a case under the trafficking victims protection act, because we argued that the $25k penalty was illegal and it made the contract basically a contract of indentured servitude… and the judges agreed with us.”

New York federal judge Nina Gershon ruled that the owners of Sentosa – Benjamin Landa and Bent Philipson — violated the trafficking victims protection act for threatening serious financial harm against the nurses by forcing them to stay on the job despite tough conditions at work.

“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 countersued.”

Howley said the Filipino nurses were also treated differently than American born nurses partly 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.”

Since this is a class-action lawsuit, according to Howley, more than 200 nurses stand to benefit from the ruling.

“They are automatically part of this unless they opt out of it, so unless we hear from them.”

Anyone who worked for Sentosa at any time from december 2008 up until the present day is a member of the class

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 will 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 class suit against sentosa may contact Howley Law Firm at (212) 601-2728.

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