A group of international nurses has filed a lawsuit against Health Carousel, a healthcare staffing agency, alleging wage theft and other labor violations.
The proposed class-action lawsuit comes at a time when hospitals are relying on international nurses more than ever to fill gaps left by many American healthcare workers leaving the company.
It was filed by Novie Dale Carmen, a Filipino nurse who signed a three-year contract with Health Carousel to come to the United States and work in a hospital in Muncy, Pennsylvania.
Ms. Carmen was fined a $20,000 quitting fee to end her contract early.
Ms. Carmen was forced to pay the quitting fee due to low wages, mandatory overtime that did not count toward the 6,240 hours on her contract, and a ban that prevented her from discussing her working conditions.
“I was basically trapped,” she said. “Duped.”
Two more plaintiffs have joined the suit against Health Carousel since it was first filed.
The suit accuses the company of human trafficking, wage theft, and racketeering. Human trafficking is defined by the Department of Homeland Security as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor.
Health Carousel has denied any wrongdoing.
“We are proud of our work to place internationally trained nurses at understaffed hospital systems in the United States,” the company said. “We invest to recruit these professionals and sponsor their employment-based visas to fulfill their dreams,” adding that it expects employees who do not finish their contracts to pay back its upfront expenses, which include things such as a visa, licensing, and travel.
Health Carousel stated that it “denies all allegations that Plaintiff or any of its nurses were indentured servants to Health Carousel” and that its contract terms are “draconian.”
If the suit is successful, it could have far-reaching implications for the healthcare recruiting industry.
“A win, in this case, will send a signal to the recruitment industry generally, at least in the healthcare sector, that they can’t continue to use these types of contracts without the very serious risk of contracts being found unenforceable and the recruitment agencies being called human traffickers,” Jonathan Harris, a professor at Loyola Marymount University’s law school in Los Angeles.