Federal Lawsuits Claim Drug Rehabilitation Members Forced to Work for No Pay

Federal Lawsuits Claim Drug Rehabilitation Members Forced to Work for No Pay

TULSA, Okla. — A pair of federal lawsuits recently filed in Oklahoma claim participants in court-ordered drug rehabilitation programs were forced to work for free while in the 12-month program, a violation of federal wage and labor laws, the 13th Amendment’s prohibition on slavery, and violations of Oklahoma laws on human trafficking. The lawsuit accuses one of the defendants, Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR), of sending rehab program participants to poultry giant Simmons Foods Inc. to work for free supplying chicken meat to major companies like Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, KFC, Walmart, PetSmart, and Rachael Ray’s Nutrish pet food.

The latest class action unpaid overtime lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, seeks $5 million in damages for violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which requires that all workers earn at least the current $7.25 per hour. The two lawsuits come on the heels of an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that discovered the practice of judges sending criminal defendants to work programs occurs not only in Oklahoma but all over the country.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs assert that CAAIR does not meet any of Oklahoma’s Board of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services certification requirements to provide drug and alcohol treatment services. Furthermore, the unpaid overtime lawsuit claims that CAAIR was founded by the former president of Peterson Farms, Inc. and used his business background to acquire unpaid labor for the livestock processing industry under the guise of providing treatment to members in the rehabilitation program.

Instead of providing drug treatment, CAAIR instead immediately sent hundreds of drug offenders to poultry slaughtering facilities run by Simmons Foods Inc. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges cruelty to workers in general, particularly those injured on the job who allegedly were left with little or no medical treatment. If true, the allegations against the defendants would constitute serious violations of federal labor laws, state workers’ compensation laws, and the Constitution’s guidelines outlawing slavery.

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