A federal judge ruled against SensotaCare, the largest nursing home provider in New York, saying the agency violated human trafficking laws with its meager wages and “threat of serious financial harm” designed to prevent anyone from quitting. According to Newsday, Judge Gershon of the federal Eastern District of New York also found that the owners of SensotaCare, Benjamin Landa and Bent Philipson, could be held personally liable for violating the anti-trafficking laws.
The ruling continues a decade-long saga between the corrupt owners of the nursing home and the Filipino nurses who say they were required to pay $25,000 if they ever quit their job. At one point, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota charged thirty nurses who quit en masse with endangering the welfare of children for leaving their position. The charges were overturned by a state court because they violated the rights of the nurses to be “free from slavery.”
While the legal saga began with SensotaCare suing all the nurses who quit for the $25,000 fee, this current lawsuit was brought by the nurses against their former company. The nurses, all recent immigrants from the Phillipines, say they were not paid prevailing wages and forced to work in unsafe and understaffed facilities, despite the terms of their contracts. The $25,000 fee represented an amount so unattainable it effectively made leaving SensotaCare impossible. In a deposition entered into the court record, one of the nurses said the penalty was the “reason we were not able to leave.”
Judge Gershon agreed with the nurses, “Having viewed the records and considered hte parties’ arguments, I find on the undisputed facts that defendant[s] violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.” The hefty and unreasonable fee “would effectively coerce nurses into continuing work,” said Judge Gershon. The federal judge did not stop there, stating that the owners could be held personally liable for violating the federal human trafficking laws. Representatives of the disgraced nursing home said that no nurses were “compelled to work” and vowed to appeal the judgement.