7 brought from India to teach in city won't have to pay fees

N.Y. placement firm used `coercive tactics' in quest for $116,720, they say

October 03, 2002|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

When Sridhar Kalyankotti arrived in the United States from India last year to begin an assignment teaching Baltimore schoolchildren, he got an unexpected lesson of his own in the world of international recruitment, he says.

Officials of the company that brought him here insisted that he and six of his colleagues immediately sign contracts to hand over nearly a third of their annual pay for the next three years to the recruiters.

Kalyankotti, 32, who had paid New York-based Teachers Placement Group Inc. $5,500 in fees before he left India, refused. So did the others.

What followed, according to papers filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court, was "a number of coercive and injurious tactics" aimed at forcing the seven to sign the contracts. According to attorneys for the teachers, the threats and warnings led to lawsuits demanding $19,000 to $25,000 from each of the seven.

Yesterday, attorneys for the Public Justice Center, who took up the teachers' cause, said the lawsuit had been settled, with Teachers Placement Group dropping its claims for a total of $116,720. One teacher, who had paid more than $5,500, will get a $2,200 refund.

In addition, the recruiting agency agreed to register with the state and comply with state laws governing recruitment firms before doing more business in Maryland.

The placement firm's local attorney, John H. Morris Jr., said the figures noted by Public Justice Center officials were "subject to interpretation" and were not significant. He said Teachers Placement would register with the state and follow regulations because it intends to do more business in Maryland.

Among the tactics the recruitment firm used in trying to collect fees, the teachers said, were unwelcome late-night visits to their apartments by a company representative who refused to leave, sometimes staying until the early morning.

If the teachers complained, according to the court records, they were told they were "lucky" the matter hadn't been turned over to police or local gangs.

Officials of the company and their attorney, Morris, have denied those charges, contending that the seven recruits were fully informed of the commissions and other fees in advance and had agreed to them before coming to the United States.

"It's a tempest in a teapot," Morris said of the counterclaim filed by the teachers.

Baltimore school district officials said they could not comment immediately on the settlement. Six of the seven teachers still work for the school system.

"We weren't told anything about a commission when we were in India, so we were surprised to hear about it when we arrived in the United States," said Kalyankotti, who teaches geometry at Lake Clifton/Eastern High School.

In papers filed as part of the lawsuit, Teachers Placement officials said they were forced to seek all of their usual fees from the teachers because the school district refused to pay any of the costs. Districts elsewhere have paid such costs.

Morris acknowledged that Theodore Thornton, a former human resources director for the school system, became a consultant to Teachers Placement after the school district signed an agreement with the New York recruiting firm and still works in that capacity in assignments across the country.

Teachers Placement recruiting contracts have also sparked disputes in school districts in Cleveland and Newark, N.J. As in Baltimore, officials in those cities turned to the placement firm because of a chronic shortage of teachers.

Vasantha Avilayarapu, another of the Baltimore recruits, said Teachers Placement Group's efforts elsewhere were the primary reason for seeking the settlement.

"We're just pleased that they will have to have everything clear in the contract from now on ... and maybe this won't happen again," she said.

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