More than 140 District of Columbia home health care workers on Thursday filed a lawsuit against three of the city’s largest Medicaid providers alleging widespread failure to pay legally required wages. The group of home care workers will seek class action certification on behalf of as many as 6,000 coworkers in the coming weeks, and this will be the first in a series of suits that will be filed against the D.C. home care agencies, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East announced Thursday...
Damages for all of the lawsuits could result in more than $150 million in pay to the workers, the union said. The agencies, which include Health Management, Inc., Nursing Enterprises, Vizion One, Inc., are already embroiled in a Medicaid fraud investigation, which uncovered $78 million in fraud, resulting in the suspension of 13 agencies.
“I’m proud of the work I do to help my clients live at home, but I can’t afford to work for free,” said Michael Thompson, a former employee of Nursing Enterprises and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “During the Medicaid fraud investigation I lost my apartment. Many of my colleagues were even left homeless, but we still went to work. These companies are taking advantage of workers, taxpayers and our clients, and we all deserve better.”
The lawsuit alleges that workers at three agencies, Health Management Inc., Nursing Enterprises, Inc. and Vizion One, Inc., were not paid for work, not paid the legally owed living wages and overtime pay and not provided paid sick days for a period of as long as three years.
“For years, the home care agencies flagrantly violated the District of Columbia’s basic wage and hour protections for workers,” said Greg McGillivary, an attorney with Woodley & McGillivary LLP, which is representing D.C. home care workers in these lawsuits. “These lawsuits will help the home care workers recover the money that is owed to them.”
“The actual laws around living wage for home care workers are strong, but the law is not being enforced in a way that is holding these agencies accountable. We need better enforcement,” said John Reid, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU. “The people providing care to our most vulnerable citizens must be treated with respect and provided the wages and benefits they are legally owed.”
Home care work is the fastest growing profession in the country. Nationwide the number of home health aides is projected to increase by nearly 50 percent from 2012 to 2022. More and more DC residents are choosing long term care at home instead of in nursing homes or other facilities, so the need for these workers is projected to increase locally.
The far-reaching suit represents a growing legal strategy by workers and their advocates, including worker centers, unions and plaintiffs’ attorneys to reclaim lost wages in the absence of government enforcement.
“Home care workers provide essential services and often put their patients’ care ahead of their pay,” said Sarah Leberstein, Staff Attorney at the National Employment Law Project. “And when these companies try to scam the system, they corner their employees into being late on rent, car payments and mortgages. When this happens, a lawsuit is necessary to hold these employers accountable.”
In a recently published Department of Labor report, wage theft was described as more prevalent than previously expected and health service employees are identified as some of the most vulnerable. The move to pursue a class action lawsuit is the leading edge of a new strategy to reclaim back pay for workers whose employers have not complied with the law and governments that are provided adequate enforcement.