A Baton Rouge appeals court has turned down a California firm’s bid to avoid refunding $1.8 million in placement fees collected from more than 360 Filipino teachers recruited to work in East Baton Rouge Parish and other public-school systems in Louisiana.
A three-judge panel of the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that Universal Placement International, which is licensed to do business in Louisiana, did not have a license to operate a private employment service in the state.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Workforce Commission had asked the 1st Circuit to reject UPI’s appeal of Administrative Law Judge Shelly Dick’s April 2010 order that the company refund the placement fees. State District Judge Janice Clark affirmed the order in December 2010.
UPI contends that in Louisiana, as opposed to California, the firm has been operating as a placement service rather than an employment service, so it does not need a license from the LWC.
The 1st Circuit panel, however, said UPI meets the definition of an employment service under Louisiana law.
“There is no doubt that Universal offered to procure employment for applicants (the Filipino teachers) or that they sought to procure employees for employers (the Louisiana school districts).
The statutory definition is clear, and the fact that Universal offers other services to its applicants is immaterial,” Circuit Judge Edward “Jimmy” Gaidry wrote for the panel.
UPI cited a 1991 Louisiana attorney general’s opinion that said the law does not require all activities related to employment service to be conducted in or from a licensed employment service office.
“While it may be true that an employment service may have to conduct certain activities from outside of its licensed office, Universal had no license in Louisiana and was clearly operating an employment service in Louisiana by offering to procure employees for employers here,’’ Gaidry added.
Circuit Judges Michael McDonald and Jeff Hughes agreed with Gaidry.
“We are very pleased with the court’s ruling,” LFT attorney Larry Samuel said Friday. “The federation filed suit because many educators suffered tremendous hardship. Constitutions and laws are written to be followed, and persons who feel that they are above the law should be held accountable. This is a victory for the rights of individuals.”
UPI attorney Murphy Foster III argued to the 1st Circuit panel in March that the company was “sought out’’ by the state-run Recovery School District, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and other school districts in the state to help fill a shortage of certified teachers.
More than 200 of the Filipino teachers found their way into classrooms in Baton Rouge.
Foster also accused the teachers unions of instigating the controversy.
Attorneys for the teacher unions and the LWC told the judges the dispute began with several teachers complaining about fees UPI charged that the teachers felt were unfair and excessive.
UPI is expected to take its fight to the Louisiana Supreme Court.