CHICAGO – A group of Filipino health workers, accused of violating provisions of their contract, won a round against their employers in a New York City court.
In his ruling, New York Supreme Court Judge Stephen A. Bucaria did not let the 27 Filipino nurses and a physical therapist pay their employers the $25,000 “liquidated damages" for not complying with the provisions of the contract.
The judge denied the plaintiffs' ― Sentosa Care LLC and others ― motion for summary judgment.
The nurses allegedly violated the contract with their employers when they left their jobs without completing the three-year employment provision. The nurses claimed they did so after their employers, led by Sentosa Care, committed “multiple breaches of contract" against them.
However, the New York Supreme Court is a trial court while the Court of Appeals is the state’s highest tribunal.
The employers allegedly failed to pay the nurses the proper night shift differentials, all hours worked, dental insurance, and malpractice insurance. The nurses also claimed that their employers failed to provide for their sick days, vacation days, and personal days, as well as adequate training.
Reduced work hours also deprived them the benefits of higher hourly wages, the nurses claimed.
Bucaria noted that “neither the employers, nor the nurses, have met their respective burdens." In this case of “'battle of the breaches, the parties have submitted conflicting affidavits and arguments to cast their adversary in the role of the primary contract offender."
The contending parties must now take each other to a full-blown trial to get a summary judgment.
Bucaria also granted the motion of lawyer Felix Vinluan to dismiss the amended complaint for “tortuous interference with contract claims" filed by the nurses’ employers, saying that Vinluan’s “constitutional right to provide legal advice to his clients is within the bounds of the law."
Vinluan and a group of ten nurses were charge in a criminal court after he advised the nurses to resign from the nursing home where they were employed.
The ruling pointed out that “regardless of whether Vinluan’s legal assessment was accurate, it is objectively reasonable. We cannot conclude that an attorney, who advises a client to take an action that he or she, in good faith, believes to be legal, loses the protection of the First Amendment if his or her advice is later determined to be incorrect."
Twenty-seven nurses originally filed a complaint against Sentosa Care. The number had since rose to 38.
Vinluan in his comment said that he "merely advised the nurses back in 2006 what their legal rights were. Sentosa, of course, gratuitously asserted, without any basis, that I advised the nurses to resign. Sentosa argued that I allegedly masterminded their resignations."
With the decision in his favor, Vinluan could now represent the nurses in the case. "There will be no more conflict of interest insofar as that issue is concerned. I would certainly love to be one of the lawyers representing the nurses during trial," he said.
The lawyer said he might file a second case of malicious prosecution
Against Sentosa, its chief operating officer Brent Philipson, and others, but would have to ask his own lawyers about this.
“As to other Filipino immigrant workers who paid Sentosa the $25,000 liquidated damages, which is actually a penalty, I would like to ask them to come out and discuss [the matter] with me and our lawyers," Vinluan said.
"They may have a case against Sentosa for human trafficking, involuntary servitude, and unjust enrichment, among other possible causes of action," the lawyer alleged.
Vinluan also asked the incoming Philippine government "to put in place a monitoring system whereby all those contracts that pass the POEA are actually followed to the letter by the foreign employers."
Rico Foz, executive vice president of the New York City-based National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, congratulated the Vinluan and the health care workers.
He also asked foreign educated nurses, or FENs, regardless of nationality or former employers, who paid for onerous pre-termination penalties to get in touch with Vinluan for a possible class action suit against their recruiters and employers to stop such illegal practice that seemed to be prevalent in the US. —VS, GMANews.TV