Attorney General James Recovers Over $90,000 in Restitution for Albany Nurses Subjected to Illegal Fines by Employer
Albany Med Health System Agrees to Repay Employees Who Were
Forced to Pay Unlawful Fees Following Resignation or Termination
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced an agreement with health care company Albany Med Health System (Albany Med) for unlawfully including a “repayment fee” provision in their employment contracts for nurses recruited from foreign nations. Under the agreement, Albany Med will return $90,229 to seven former nurses who were each forced to pay up to $20,000 if they resigned or were fired within three years of employment. The repayment provision threatened the nurses, most of whom were from the Philippines, with legal action and the involvement of immigration authorities if they did not make the payments. Albany Med will pay $82,000 to the workers and $8,229 more in interest. In addition to removing the repayment provision from all employment contracts, Albany Med must notify current and former nurses of the clause’s removal and submit written reports on their compliance to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
“As we’ve seen with the COVID-19 crisis, nurses are the backbone of our health care system and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity,” said Attorney General James. “By forcing its employees to choose between paying outrageous sums to leave their jobs, or facing immigration authorities, Albany Med violated their rights as workers and as individuals. My office is committed to fighting for all health care workers and will continue to hold employers accountable for their exploitive and unlawful actions.”
“After years of fighting on behalf of our immigrant members at AMC, NYSNA is pleased to see this result from Attorney General Letitia James' Office,” said NYSNA Executive Director Pat Kane, RN. “We continue to be proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the brave Filipino nurses that sounded the alarm on these coercive employment contracts. Thankfully the nurses now have a union to address these concerns and coupled with this strong agreement from Attorney General James, nurses have confidence that their voice will be heard by Albany Med and New York state. The NYSNA thanks Attorney General James for not giving up on this case and honoring the COVID-19 nurse heroes of Albany Med with an agreement that restores the respect they deserve.”
Attorney General James issued a subpoena in February 2020 after the matter was referred to her office by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA). Albany Med was found to have violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act § 1589 through its provision, which constitutes a threat of sufficiently serious legal and financial harm “to compel a reasonable person of the same background and in the same circumstances to perform or to continue performing labor or services in order to avoid incurring that harm.”
Since January 2011, Albany Med collected $82,000 in “repayment fees” from formerly employed nurses because they did not fulfill their three-year commitment. The repayment provision discouraged workers from terminating their employment early, even if the conditions of employment were deplorable, or if they found employment with better wages or conditions elsewhere. The OAG found that this policy was unlawfully enforced against seven nurses in the past 10 years, while hundreds of nurses were subjected to the unlawful policy during their permanent visa recruitment process or during their employment with Albany Med.
Along with the $90,000 in restitution, Albany Med has agreed to additional terms to ensure fair treatment of its workers, including:
- Removing the repayment provision from all current and future employment contracts;
- Notifying all current and former nurses who have been a party to this agreement within the past six years that this clause has been removed and will not be enforced;
- Submitting a sworn affidavit to the OAG attesting that it has not collected the repayment fees from any nurse through any means, other than the seven nurses it has already admitted to; and
- Reporting requested documents and information to the OAG, including:
- Copies of the draft notices which will be sent to all current and former nurses;
- Lists of all current and formerly employed nurses who have received the notice as well as their signed acknowledgments;
- Any responses or complaints received by current or former nurses in response to the notice of removal; and
- Written confirmation within one year that the unlawful repayment provision has not be reintroduced to any employment contracts.
This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Roya Aghanori under the supervision of Labor Bureau Chief Karen Cacace. The Labor Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Meghan Faux, and is under the supervision of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.