If You Are Mistreated Abroad
You Do Have Legal Recourse in the U.S.
Disclaimer: The information that follows was not written by a lawyer and this article does not constitute legal advice. In fact, this information pertains to my case. Your case may be different. I do feel, however, you can take advantage of what I have learned and apply it to your specific situation. At this time I would like to remain anonymous and hold the name of the school in confidence.
Many of us have wondered if a Legal Suit in the U.S. is possible in response to being mistreated while teaching overseas? I was unjustly fired and also suffered unjust damage to my professional reputation. Do I have legal recourse in the U.S.? Yes I do, and in this article I will show you why I do. Your specific situation may be different from mine, but what follows will alert you to the possibilities and you should be able to adapt this information to your own needs.
Unjustly Fired and Recourse in U.S. Courts
When you sign a letter of agreement with a school at a recruiting fair in the U.S., it is likely that the school will have a “forum selection clause” written into the agreement. A “forum selection” usually states the following: “The employee hereby acknowledges that he/she has read and understands the contents of this LETTER OF AGREEMENT, and that no other promises or understandings have been made except as stated, and that his/her LETTER OF AGREEMENT will be governed by applicable laws in ______ (name of country).”
To put this in simple terms, you are agreeing to subject yourself to the laws of a foreign country. In civil law there is fortunately “law of choice”. Briefly, if there is a conflict between laws from different countries, it is the prerogative of the court to determine if it has jurisdiction.
Let’s say the contract was signed in Boston – “lex loci contractus” – law of the place where the agreement is made. This supports the notion that Massachusetts would be a proper venue for the case.
I am a U.S. citizens – “lex patriae”
Many overseas schools incorporate in the U.S. to avoid paying foreign tax which can be quite exorbitant. In my particular case the school is a registered 501 (c) – non profit corporation – in the U.S., has an office in D.C., receives federal grants and has U.S. bank accounts. If you are unsure of the status of your school, you can go to www.guidestar.org. GuideStar is an organization that provides organizational and financial information on over 1.7 million registered Non-profits in the U.S. Some of their services are free.
The action is contrary to a “fundamental policy” of the state. For example; if the school director took retaliatory action towards you, retaliation is a violation of most state Civil Rights Laws and suggest the case should be heard in the States.
A contract that designates a choice of which country’s law shall be adhered to in an agreement between the parties (e.g., any dispute arising hereunder shall be governed by the laws of _____(name of country) is generally not sufficient to subject the parties to personal jurisdiction in the forum whose law is designated. Such provisions contemplate a choice of law, and do not necessarily manifest consent to submission to jurisdiction in the designated forum. [See Gundle Const. Corp. v. Adams County Asphalt, Inc. (5th Cir. 1996) 85 F.3d 201, 206]
The court must consider any contract between the parties designating a forum for their dispute (“forum-selection clauses”). But such contracts are not dispositive (providing a final resolution). Determination of party and witness “convenience” and “interest of justice” is committed to the court’s discretion. [Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp. (1988) 487 U.S. 22, 29-30, 108 S.Ct. 2239, 2244; Red Bull Assocs. v. Best Western Int’l., Inc. (2nd Cir. 1988) 862 F.2d 963.
Provisions are made for concern in regard to the potential for corruption or fraud in a hearing that takes place in the country in which the school is located.
Courts are hesitant to require plaintiffs to take legal recourse in a jurisdiction that would cause “unnecessary or unreasonable” inconvenience. The circumstances surrounding the case, including: retaliation, threats, harassments, are compelling reasons for a change of venue for safety and justice sake.
Damage to Professional Reputation and Recourse in U.S. Courts
I have been blackballed after I was fired. I tried to work with the major hiring organizations to clear my name and tried to activate my file and prepare to attend a hiring fair. I was told I would not be accepted as a candidate by the organization that hosted the fair where I was hired by the school that abused me. While I was not accepted as a candidate, the school did attend their fair despite the fact that they have many current and recent cases pending against them for mistreating teachers.
In regards to damage to professional reputation I discovered that since the consequences of the Director and School’s actions have more bearing in the U.S. in regard to professional reputation, the U.S. is a more proper venue for litigation.
Everything the school told these organizations, I am not absolutely positive of, but I have e-mails indicating “rumors” and other indications of derogatory statements. However, one of the major problems in the International Educational Community is that disinformation and inaccuracies are circulated behind “closed doors”. Why was I an acceptable candidate previously and now am no longer able to pursue my chosen profession? How many other teachers have been unjustly and secretively “blackballed”?
Accountability and Liability in U.S. Courts.
Who Can Be Held Accountable?
One of the major differences between the U.S. and other countries (as far as I know) is that in the U.S. individual members of the Administration (including Directors, Associate Directors, Heads of Human Resource, etc…) may be held personally financially liable for damages. While it varies slightly from state to state, there is generally no “collective liability” for Board members who govern a 501 (c). Even unpaid individual members of the Board may be held personally financially liable for the school’s actions if it is determined that they were personally negligent. For example, if a member of the Board was notified of the problems and failed to act or was negligent and the result was substantial damage to the reputation of an individual, that Board member may be found personally financially liable.
Securing Legal Representation
Began by using the internet to review attorneys’ web sites and selected attorneys that I thought practiced the type of law that applied to my situation. I then send a short letter to selected lawyers in Massachusetts – the state in which the letter of agreement was signed – and to lawyers in Washington, D.C. – where the school is registered as a Non-profit.
A few lawyers agreed to take the case but the retainer and hourly wage was beyond my current financial situation. I did find a lawyer willing to take the case on a contingency basis. He advocated setting up a private negotiation with the school. He suggested that we pursue damage to reputation, look for financial irregularities, consider debarment (loss of U.S. tax exempt status for the school– used for securing tax deductible donations and matching grants from corporations) and consider using the press.
My Letter to Attorneys
Here is how I began my letter: Hello. My name is ______________ and I am searching for legal representation for a suit involving wrongful termination, retaliation and damage to professional reputation…..
When Schools Make No Effort to Change,
Litigation May Be the Answer