Labor Complaint Claims Texas-run Facilities Exploit Residents with Disabilities

Posted on

May 8, 2020

Edie Surtees, Communications Director

Labor Complaint Claims Texas-run Facilities Exploit Residents with Disabilities

SAN ANTONIO, Texas—Your work is up to par with your co-workers. You produce just as much in just as much time as they do.  But because you have a disability and live in a state facility, you get paid not only less than other employees, but less than minimum wage.

Disability Rights Texas, the federally mandated protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Texas, is calling foul on the state of Texas for doing just that.

A complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) yesterday by DRTx against the Texas Health and Humans Services Commission (HHSC) on behalf of two individuals with disabilities claims that the State is illegally paying subminimum wage to these and other residents at its state supported living centers (SSLCs).

In some cases, because of a depression-era federal law, paying subminimum wage can be legal. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows for such action only for holders of Section 14(c) certificates who continue to meet certain legal requirements. The complaint argues that the San Antonio and Mexia State Supported Living Centers and other SSLCs, all managed by HHSC, have not.

Though Section 14(c) certificate holders should be subject per the FLSA to wage-review hearings, HHSC has successfully argued that they are immune from such hearings. As a result, only the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the DOL can investigate HHSC’s actions and undertake appropriate remedies.

Specifically, the filing enumerates the following violations:

  1. The SSLCs cannot show that all of their workers earning subminimum wages are “impaired for the work performed,” as required by 29 U.S.C. § 214(c)(1).
  2. The SSLCs cannot verify that all workers paid subminimum wages received the career counseling and other information required by 29 U.S.C. § 794g(c).
  3. The SSLCs have paid and continue to pay workers subminimum wages that do not have access to wage reviews in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 214(c)(5) and 29 C.F.R. § 525.22.

DRTx requests that the WHD investigate the alleged violations described and any other potential FLSA or Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act violations. It also requests that if the WHD confirms violations of law, it takes the following measures:

  1. Order HHSC to pay the unpaid wages to the complainants and all other affected employees.
  2. Retroactively revoke each 14(c) certificate held by employers controlled directly or indirectly by the HHSC.
  3. Require the employers to provide counseling to employees and their families about how to handle any potential reporting obligations to the Social Security Administration stemming from an award of back pay.

“It’s hard to believe that Texas would attempt to save money by taking advantage of the very people it is supposed to be protecting and caring for,” said Ted Evans, DRTx attorney who filed the complaint. “We understand the need for managing the state budget, but to do so at the expense of people with disabilities is unconscionable, and in this case – illegal.”

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Disability Rights Texas (previously named Advocacy Inc.) is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society. Visit www.DRTx.org for more information.