Health workers recruited from PH sue Ohio staffing firm for ‘human trafficking’
Health care workers recruited from the Philippines are suing an Ohio health care staffing firm for allegedly violating federal and state human trafficking laws.
An updated complaint filed in December claims that employment by the fast-expanding Cincinnati-based Health Carousel “is essentially indentured servitude.”
A recent investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek featured a former contractor Novie Dale Carmen, recruited from the Philippines and placed in a nursing job near Philadelphia, who said she had to pay Health Carousel $20,000 to quit. She borrowed the money from her boyfriend.
Health Carousel responded to the Bloomberg investigation, saying, “ensuring the health, safety and well-being of every one of our nurses is the core of our business. To imply otherwise, based on activists intent on exploiting and twisting the experiences of a few, is disheartening and damaging.”
Carmen, a former Health Carousel contract nurse who said she was supposed to work 6,240 hours on her contract before quitting, accused the company of refusing to count the first three months because they were considered orientation, and of not counting overtime while she couldn’t decline overtime.
Carmen told Bloomberg she was paid $25.50 an hour as an ER nurse, but later learned many local positions paid more, and the hospital system UPMC paid Health Carousel $52 or more for each hour she worked.
The lawsuit, first filed in March 2020, has been updated to seek class action status. Two other named plaintiffs have joined the suit, including a physical therapist who stated that she was earning $45.56 per patient visit, while physical therapists who were hired directly by the facility were earning $105 per visit for start of care and $75 per visit for routine care.
Health Carousel contract workers allegedly are not allowed to discuss pay or working conditions, which isolates them, and workers who leave before completing their contract commitment can be sued. Workers are required to inform Health Carousel if they travel out of the town or state they are residing in, the lawsuit states.
Attorney David Seligman, an attorney for the nurses, stated there is a larger “systemic issue surrounding strategies that employers may use in order to continue employ workers for less than market wages.”
Health Carousel argues that its contract terms are standard and long recognized by Ohio, including a liquidated damages clause and a non-compete covenant. It has also stated that “Despite the invaluable service Health Carousel and its employees provide in helping address staffing shortages (especially during this time of national crisis), this lawsuit demonizes Health Carousel as a ‘human trafficker’ and a ‘racketeer.’”