A nursing agency and recruiter that brought Filipino nurses to the U.S. and promised them jobs, but threatened them with large fines if they left those jobs prematurely, will pay $1.56 million to the nurses, plus interest, a New York federal judge said.
The court previously found that the Prompt Nursing Employment Agency LLC, doing business as Sentosa Services, had violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and broken their contract by threatening to seriously harm the nurses financially if they left their jobs early.
Judge Nina Gershon of the Brooklyn-based U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Tuesday decided that the class of nurses was entitled to compensatory damages for that breach of contract. She also awarded $1.56 million for the TVPA violations, both with pre-judgment interest at 9% per year. Gershon said those suing had acknowledged they can’t recover twice for the same harm.
“Class members may recover compensatory damages for breach of contract or violations of the TVPA, but not both,” she said.
Gershon denied the nurses’ request for a summary of award of equivalent punitive damages, agreeing with the defendants that the decision be made by a jury.
The Woodmere, N.Y.-based company hired the nurses in the Philippines and brought them to the U.S. as nursing home staff in New York state. Their contracts stipulated that they were required to pay $25,000 in liquidated damages if they left their positions before the end of their first year.
Because the clause represented a threat that would have compelled the nurses to remain in the agency’s employ to avoid repercussions and charges they wouldn’t be able to pay, the court previously found the agency in violation of the trafficking victims act.
Lawyers for the defendants didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment on the court’s ruling.
Howley Law Firm and Law Offices of John Howley represented the nurses. Hahn Eisenberger PLLC and Stahl and Zelmanovitz represented the defendants.
The case is Paguirigan v. Prompt Nursing Employment Agency LLC, E.D.N.Y., No. 17-cv-1302, 6/1/21.