Former North Carolina rehab residents sue for pay, claiming their work enriched owners Read more here: https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article219683990.html#storylink=cpy
Two people who were enrolled in a residential drug recovery program are suing its operators, claiming their wages were stolen.
The federal lawsuit also names businesses that Recovery Connections Community supplied with workers under contracts, including an assisted living home and a fast-food restaurant in Harnett County. The lawsuit says those businesses paid less than minimum wage to workers Recovery Connections supplied, and avoided paying overtime wages.
Recovery Connections Community’s operations were the subject of reports this year by Reveal, a news site run by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Reveal found that found that people enrolled in the drug rehabilitation program based in Black Mountain received no real treatment but were forced to work at nursing homes and other businesses without pay. The reports said that people enrolled in Recovery Connections were required to work without pay directly for the rehab operators, Jennifer A. Warren and Phillip Warren.
State Attorney General Josh Stein announced in May that he and other state officials are investigating. His office said in an email Monday that the investigation is ongoing.
Two former rehab residents, Andrew Presson and Kimberly Myris, are asking the court to certify a class so other people enrolled or formerly enrolled in Recovery Connections Community can be paid for their work.
“Recovery Community itself put them to work without paying them,” Clermont F. Ripley, one of the lawyers representing Presson and Myris, said in a phone interview. “They were also sending people to work really long hours at adult care homes, where they were responsible for some pretty important aspects of people’s lives.”
Reached by phone, Phillip Warren said of the lawsuit Monday, “I don’t have any comment on it to any press. You can follow it as it progresses.”
The lawsuit names about a half dozen assisted living centers in Buncombe and McDowell counties as well as Oak Hill Living Center in Angier and a Zaxby’s restaurant in Harnett County.
Operators at Oak Hill could not be reached.
Zaxby’s did not pay workers less than minimum wage, said Michael Jackson, designated principal of Jackson Family Enterprises, the company that owns the franchise in Harnett.
Recovery Connections says it is a substance abuse recovery center when it is actually a for-profit business that staffs adult care homes and other businesses for a fee, the lawsuit said.
The businesses are being sued because they were party to the scheme, Ripley said.
“They knew the people who were working for them were not getting paid, were not getting overtime, and should be liable under wage and hour laws,” she said.
Only businesses where Presson and Myris worked were named in the suit, Ripley said. They were moved from business to business and sometimes worked 16 hours a day for different employers.
“They worked a lot more hours in a week than most people do,” said Ripley, who is a staff lawyer with the NC Justice Center.
The lawsuit says Jennifer and Phillip Warren enriched their lives using money earned by Recovery Connections Community resident labor. The Warrens took trips to Greece, France, French Polynesia and other places, the lawsuit said.
Jennifer Warren used the money to buy exotic pets such as llamas, miniature ponies and exotic birds, the lawsuit said. Recovery Connections residents were required to take care of her pets and her children, clean her house and run errands.
Phillip Warren required residents to build a deck at his home, the lawsuit says.