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2018 Year in Review: Justice

In addition to holding the Trump administration accountable in court, Public Citizen’s attorneys continued to work on a range of headline-making consumer and worker rights issues. Among those who benefited from Public Citizen’s legal advocacy during this tumultuous year was Eden Selispara, a nurse from the Philippines whose employer threatened to report her for immigration fraud and financial consequences when she tried to find a new job after waiting weeks for an assignment.

In 2017, Selispara came to the U.S. to work for MedPro, a Florida health staffing agency. When she arrived in Sunrise, Fla., she was assigned to a three-bedroom apartment with eight other immigrant health care workers and attended mandatory orientation and training conducted by MedPro. She remained there for two months and was prohibited from obtaining other work or from traveling outside of South Florida. Over those two months, after deductions from payroll taxes, she received $2,500 – which she was told to she would need for relocation costs for her first assignment. In those two months, she did not receive so much as a placement interview.

When Selispara confronted MedPro about her lack of employment, the company threatened to report her to U.S. immigration officials. When Selispara decided to find a job for herself, MedPro demanded an immediate payment of more than $150,000, then filed a lawsuit against her for breach of contract when she didn’t pay. Represented by Public Citizen attorney Adam Pulver and the firm of Varnell & Warwick, PA, Selispara filed counterclaims under Florida and federal law. As part of a settlement reached in August, without any party admitting wrongdoing, MedPro agreed to dismiss its claims against Selispara; modify its recruitment, placement and compensation practices for the nurses and health care professionals it brings to the U.S.; pay the nurses for time spent in mandatory training and orientation; and not to threaten the nurses with lawsuits or reporting to immigration authorities.

Protecting Consumers From Forced Arbitration

Forced arbitration clauses deny people the right to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing in court, instead funneling them into a private, corporate arbitration system. The ubiquitous clauses are slipped into the fine print of everything from cell phone and credit card agreements to employment contracts.

In February, we organized a coalition of nearly 50 groups and launched a campaign to push 21 tech giants – including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft – to remove forced arbitration clauses from their employment contracts. In May, Uber and Lyft quickly responded and eliminated forced arbitration agreements that kept employees – as well as drivers and passengers – from pursuing their rights in court if they were sexually harassed or assaulted. In June, approximately 8,500 activists sent a Public Citizen-led letter to Amazon urging its board of directors to prohibit forced arbitration in worker contracts. As of press time, Amazon had not responded. And in November, Google announced that it will end the practice of forcing employees into arbitration for claims of sexual harassment and assault. Public Citizen will continue to lead the coalition in 2019 to pressure tech companies to remove forced arbitration clauses from worker contracts.

Public Citizen is also fighting against unfair applications of forced arbitration provisions. In 2018, we won an appeal in a case brought against a company alleged to have committed fraud by leading consumers to believe they were signing up for a free credit report when actually they were enrolling in a $29.95 per month credit monitoring service. Vicki Forby filed the lawsuit in 2015 under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act against One Technologies. For two years, she litigated the case against One Technologies in court. After the court denied One Technologies’ motion to dismiss the case, the company filed a motion to force the case into arbitration. The district court granted that motion. Forby appealed that order, and Public Citizen represented Forby in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the company had waited too long and waived its right to seek arbitration. In November 2018, the Fifth Circuit ruled in Forby’s favor and reversed the decision of the district court. The case will now return to district court for litigation and trial.