Lawsuit alleges financial exploitation of immigrant teachers

New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s attorney general is accusing a company that recruits immigrant teachers from the Philippines to work at public schools of charging exorbitant fees and using deceptive financial tactics, according to a lawsuit announced Tuesday.

The lawsuit was filed with a state district court in Albuquerque against Total Teaching Solutions International and CEO Janice Bickert of Ruidoso, alleging exorbitant fees to place Filipino teachers in schools on work visas.

The suit accuses the company and Bickert of violations under the state unfair practices act. It seeks a permanent restraining order against the company, financial restitution to immigrant teachers, fines of $5,000 per violation and damages.

Bickert and company officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement that the lawsuit is necessary amid a teacher shortage to stop predatory business practices against immigrants.

The suit says the company subjected immigrant teachers to fees of $15,000 for placement services on average, when other companies provided identical services for about $4,000.

“Once in the United States, teachers are forced to pay previously undisclosed additional fees, placement fees, or sign additional refinancing contracts,” the lawsuit states. “Teachers who are unable to pay the required installment of around $400 per month are subject to late fees.”

The company filed lawsuits in 2019 against eight teachers, alleging breach of contract, in cases set for trials before juries.

The lawsuit also alleges that Filipino job applicants signed financing agreements without knowledge of their future salaries.

The lawsuit also says the recruitment company may have relied on Janice Bickert’s husband, George Bickert, in his position as the superintendent of Ruidoso’s public school district to “create legitimacy” for the company.

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