Noah Peters, former Solicitor at the Federal Labor Relations Authority, wrote a recent piece in Law360 that examines a mundane labor dispute in which the plaintiffs claim human trafficking and RICO laws have been violated. The claims would massively expand the scope of those laws and undermine the future of innovative healthcare solutions that assuage the industry’s labor shortage.

As Peters lays out, the plaintiffs in the case claim that nurses who had been recruited to the U.S. from the Philippines by a healthcare staffing company were victims of trafficking and RICO laws because they were held to contracts that they agreed to. The contracts included standard liquidated damages and non-compete clauses.

The liquated damages clause exists because of the resource-intensive nature of recruiting and placing qualified foreign-educated nurses in the U.S. Peters writes that the company “sponsors foreign-educated nurses for immigration visas, handles their expenses and paperwork for licensing, and pays for their legal fees, insurance and housing while they are employed with the company. In doing so, it incurs significant costs associated with licensing, legal fees, insurance, travel and housing.”

But the disagreement over these agreed-upon contract provisions falls far outside the scope of the egregious human trafficking and mafia-style crimes that these laws intend to prevent. Peters notes that the laws in question criminalize “the transport, provision, obtaining or maintaining of ‘another person knowing that the person will be subjected to involuntary servitude or be compelled to engage in sexual activity,’ and ‘trafficking, peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor.’”

These crimes have no bearing to well-paying jobs sought after by nurses. But this hasn’t prevented plaintiffs from invoking these laws because the “incentive to do so is obvious: Civil RICO allows for verdicts triple the amount of actual damages, a lucrative prize.”

Peters writes, “If successful, the suit — which is still in the pretrial motion phase — would distort laws meant to grant justice to victims of heinous sex traffickers and smugglers, potentially allowing a company that recruits foreign nurses for American health care facilities to be treated as a criminal enterprise.” This outcome would “[disrespect] actual victims and survivors of trafficking,” argues Peters.

It could also undermine the ability of healthcare staffing companies to legally and ethically recruit highly-trained nurses to the U.S. to care for patients and families. With the country facing a persistent healthcare staffing shortage, this would be a dire outcome.

Read Noah Peters’ full piece in Law360 here.