A Cincinnati-based healthcare staffing firm is being sued by workers it recruited in the Philippines, who accuse the company of violating federal and state human trafficking laws.
Fast-growing Health Carousel is headquartered in Cincinnati, has an office in Austin Landing, and in recent years has acquired other recruitment companies in the Dayton area. Although they have different brands that do different types of recruiting, this suit focuses on their international recruiting.
The latest updated complaint was filed in December and says Health Carousel “employment” is essentially indentured servitude.
A recent Bloomberg Businessweek investigation featured former contractor Novie Dale Carmen, recruited from the Philippines and placed in a nursing job near Philadelphia, who said she had to pay $20,000 to quit.
Health Carousel said in response to the Bloomberg investigation that “ensuring the health, safety and well-being of each of our nurses is at the heart of our business. Insinuating otherwise, based on activists determined to exploit and misrepresent the experiences of a few, is discouraging and damaging.
The former Health Carousel contract nurse told Bloomberg she was expected to work 6,240 hours on her contract before quitting.
But she said the company kept adding reasons not to count the hours, like not counting the first three months because they were considered orientation, and not counting overtime, but she didn’t. could not refuse overtime.
The lawsuit also said there was an unexpected month-long delay between her arrival in the United States and when she started working at the hospital, during which time she had no income.
Contract workers with the company are not allowed to discuss pay or working conditions, which isolates them, the lawsuit states, and workers who leave before completing their contract engagement can be sued. Workers are required to notify Health Carousel if they are traveling outside the city or state in which they live, the lawsuit says.
Carmen told Bloomberg she was paid $25.50 an hour as an ER nurse, but later learned that many local positions paid more, and the UPMC hospital system paid Health Carousel $52 or more for every hour worked.
The lawsuit was first filed in March 2020 and seeks class action status. Two other named plaintiffs joined the lawsuit, including a physical therapist who said in the suit that she earned $45.56 per patient visit, while physical therapists hired directly by the facility earned $105 per visit for the start of treatment and $75 per visit. for routine care.
The Dayton Daily News has previously reported how healthcare companies are struggling with widespread vacancies and burnout. Remaining employees gain new leverage to demand higher wages. Recruitment agencies have also grown in influence as demand for their services has soared.
Towards Justice attorney David Seligman, a member of the legal team representing the plaintiffs, said they did not believe all companies engaged in conduct as serious as the conduct alleged by their clients.
“But there is clearly a larger systemic problem surrounding the strategies employers can use to continue to employ workers for below-market wages,” Seligman said.
The plaintiffs are still working to obtain certification for their proposed class action.
Among Health Carousel’s arguments, the company says that its contract terms, which it says are standard in employment contracts and that it uses contract terms that Ohio has long recognized and approved, including a damages and a non-competition clause. The organization maintains that it did not violate any law, did not coerce the work and did not misrepresent the terms of the contract.
“One need only skim recent headlines about National Guard troops being deployed to hospitals to address severe staffing shortages to understand how important companies like Health Carousel are,” the company said in a motion to dismiss. filed in January. “Despite the invaluable service Health Carousel and its employees provide to help address staffing shortages (especially during this time of national crisis), this lawsuit demonizes Health Carousel as a ‘human trafficker’ and ‘racketeer’.
In addition to trying to have the entire complaint dismissed, Health Carousel argued that at least the class action proposal should be struck down and argued that the various named workers had no circumstances and claims. that apply to each other.