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Federal Judge in Oklahoma allows unpaid overtime and minimum wage lawsuit to proceed

A multibillion-dollar company, Simmons Food, Inc. out of Arkansas, and Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery (“CAAIR”), has been sued by three men who alleged they were forced to work over forty hours per week for free in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The lawsuit was filed as a class action in October of 2017 in the Northern District of Oklahoma, where the federal judge ruled that a majority of the claims should move forward and the defendants’ motion to throw the case out be denied. 

The men alleged that instead of receiving the rehabilitation services or treatment they were promised, they were required to work in chicken plants in lieu of prison time. Any wages that should have been earned on behalf of the participants were kept by CAAIR. If, at anytime a participant was injured, CAAIR would retain their workers’ compensation payments instead of the participant receiving the proceeds. The defendant has maintained that the participants were not employed by the company at all because they worked without the promise or expectation of pay, but the federal judge found otherwise. Specifically, the judge said: 

“Plaintiffs’ allegations that Simmons threatened them with prison if their work was unsatisfactory, or if they were unable to work, suggest that Simmons had the power to hire and fire Plaintiffs.”

The participants worked at Simmons, which is a chicken processing plant with an annual revenue of $1.4 billion, who contracted with CAAIR to purchase cheap, forced labor in exchange for donations. Namely, Simmons would purchase the labor from CAAIR at discounted rates or as a donation in order to keep the wages. 

The plaintiffs alleged that they were treated like prisoners where Simmons used threats and coercion to cause the plaintiffs to reasonably believe that they have no alternative but continue working for the defendants. The judge said that the claims regarding forced labor through threats and racketeering could move forward as “Simmons’s conduct went beyond the normal course of business, as they entered into a contract with C.A.A.I.R. to receive labor at below-market rates… It also appears that Simmons executed C.A.A.I.R’s policy of issuing threats of prison.”

The judge dismissed the claim that the defendants violated the men’s Thirteenth Amendment Right against involuntary servitude and forced labor. 

This is not the first time a drug rehab program has been under scrutiny for violation of labor laws. Earlier this year, the drug rehab program, Cenikor, was sued by Borsellino, P.C. for violations of unpaid overtime and minimum wage. Forced labor and unpaid wages are a serious problem in this country.  If you have been forced to work in a rehabilitation program and denied wages within the past three years, call Josh Borsellino today at 817.908.9861 or 432.242.7118.