WASHINGTON, DC, December 20, 2012 -  A federal jury has awarded $4.5 million to more than 300 Filipino teachers who were victims of an illegal scheme hatched by a Los Angeles employment placement agency. Covington & Burling represented the teachers on a pro bono basis.

After a two-week trial in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, a jury found that Universal Placement International of Los Angeles and its owner and president deceived the teachers by not disclosing fees they would have to pay to obtain teaching jobs in Louisiana under the nation’s guestworker program. The jury found that the defendants made misrepresentations and violated California laws governing employment agencies and unfair business acts.

Covington, working with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Federation of Teachers, filed a class action lawsuit in 2010 on behalf of the teachers, who paid large sums of money - as much as five times the average annual household income in the Philippines - to secure teaching jobs in Louisiana.

As alleged in the lawsuit, the recruiters represented that they would charge fees of about $5,000 for their services. After the teachers paid these non-refundable fees and went into debt to do so, the recruiters announced for the first time that a much larger additional fee of $8,000 to $10,000 would be due. The teachers’ passports and visas were often confiscated to ensure that the new fees would be paid. The teachers could not turn back because of the debt they incurred to pay the initial fees.

“The jury sent a clear message that exploitive and abusive business practices involving federal guestworkers will not be tolerated,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of Southern Poverty Law Center.

Dennis Auerbach led the Covington trial team, which included Candice Plotkin and Jillian Willis. “We are very pleased with the verdict in this case and are proud to have stood by these brave teachers as they finally obtained justice,” Mr. Auerbach said.