ATLANTA — Three physical therapy graduates from the Philippines have asked a Superior Court here to stop the Georgia State Board of Physical Therapy from implementing “an unlawful and discriminatory policy” that prevents those trained in the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Egypt from taking the licensing exam.

The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief was filed on Nov. 2 before the Superior Court of Fulton County by Meazechelle Torres Dakanay, Tristan Asuncion Latorre and Fatima Abanero Edemburgo, who asked the court to enjoin the board from stopping them to take the only physical therapist licensing exam offered in the state.

Also named as defendant is the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, Inc. (FSBPT) for breach of contract between the federation and the board.

The federation creates and administers the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is the only national licensing exam for physical therapists administered in the U.S.

The three Filipino complainants are eligible to take the NPTE, but the board has denied them to sit for the examination for the sole reason that they studied in the Philippines, the suit says.

The three claim their position is made more precarious by the fact that their ability to remain in the U.S. on an H-1B visa is contingent upon passing the NPTE and becoming a licensed therapist.

“The board implemented this policy without proper notice and rulemaking proceedings as required under Georgia Administrative Procedures Act (the ‘Georgia APA’),” says the suit filed through lawyer Joseph Chancey of Atlanta, who also asked the court to declare the testing prohibition “invalid.”

It further states that “the policy exceeds the board’s statutory authority by creating new barriers for PT licensure in Georgia, the policy breaches contractual agreements, and it interferes with the plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights guaranteed under the Georgia Constitution.”

On Sept. 30, the FSBPT offered an alternative form of the exam they called NPTE-i for graduates of Egypt, India, Pakistan or the Philippines, which were also described by FSBPT as “restrictive countries.”

The exam will be offered two times in 2011 with the first exam scheduled on May 25.

The three plaintiffs, however, refused to accept the offer.

“The board has approved an examination that is separate and distinct from NPTE called the NPTE-i,” the suit says. “The board is presently not allowing applicants trained in India, Pakistan, Egypt and the Philippines to take the uniform national examination that all other applicants for licensure in Georgia take.”

“Unlike all other applicants, who can schedule and take the NPTE through the year, individuals who studied in India, Pakistan, Egypt and the Philippines will only be allowed to take the examination twice a year,” the suit adds.

Dakanay, Latorre and Edemburgo all passed the Georgia Law Exam (GA Ethics and Jurisprudence Examination) this year, and have successfully completed the traineeship.

Dakanay of Statesboro, Georgia, and a mother of one, obtained her physical therapy degree from the Unibersidad de Sta. Isabel in Naga City, Philippines, while Latorre of Macon, Georgia; and Edemburgo of Waycross, Georgia, graduated, respectively, from the University of the East-RMMC and the Riverside College in Bacolod City.

According to their suit, the federation ratified and announced on July 12, 2010 a categorical prohibition against all graduates of physical therapy schools in India, Pakistan, Egypt and the Philippines from taking the NPTE because of alleged “security breaches” that the federation claimed allowed candidates in those countries to cheat on the NPTE.

Minutes of the federation’s meeting — wherein no members of the general public were allowed to attend — states that “until the new examination is developed by the federation, the board cannot accept applicants” from those four countries.

The board also announced that registration fees are non-refundable and incomplete applications expire after one year, the suit says.

The suit claims the board did not hold public hearing, issued notice or provided opportunity for affected parties to submit views or argument regarding the testing prohibition, in violation of the procedural requirements of the Georgia APA.

“The testing prohibition and prior statements by the federation reflect its unsupported and generalized belief that all physical therapy licensing candidates trained in India, Pakistan, Egypt or the Philippines have a propensity to cheat,” the suit says.

Among other things, the federation has announced that there is a culture of cheating in those countries, and tendency to engage in the “systematic and methodical sharing and distribution of recalled questions.”

In the suit, federation member Nettie Katharin Horner, who is also the administrator of the State Board of Physical Therapy for Alabama, was quoted as saying that “she was generally against all foreign therapists and that they were taking jobs away from Americans.”

According to the suit, all plaintiffs have suffered monetary harm in an amount to be determined at trial.