By Kevin McGill
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A business that brought hundreds of Filipino teachers to Louisiana to work in public schools has been fined and ordered to refund placement fees that a teacher union estimates will total $1.8 million.
An administrative law judge with the Louisiana Workforce Commission said California-based Universal Placement Inc. operated without the proper Louisiana license. Les Landon, spokesman for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said Friday that the union estimates about 360 teachers are affected and the placement fees averaged about $5,000 per person.
Judge Shelly Dick, who is based in Baton Rouge, also fined the company $500 and ordered the payment of legal fees totaling $7,500.
Dick turned down the teachers’ request that would nullify their contracts with Universal Placement, saying she lacked that authority. Also, she did not order the return of all fees collected from the teachers, such as those for helping them obtain visas and other documents needed to work in the United States.
“Scrutiny of these fees is not within the regulatory authority of this commission,” Dick wrote.
In complaints to state and federal authorities, teachers have complained of fees totaling in excess of $10,000 in some cases.
Dick noted in the ruling that Universal Placement claimed it didn’t need a Louisiana license because it operated in California, placing teachers in various states.
“UPI is splitting hairs,” she wrote, going on to recount evidence of the company’s extensive work in Louisiana.
A telephone call to a spokeswoman for Universal Placement was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers have filed complaints with the state attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Labor about Universal Placement and its sister operation in the Philippines, PARS.
In the federal complaint, the union says Universal Placement and its president, Lourdes “Lulu” Navarro, arranged for one-year visas, instead of the more commonly used three-year visas, and charged visa renewal fees to the teachers, not the school systems. ♦