July 13, 2017

Federal lawsuit alleges city contractor illegally failed to pay proper wages to hundreds of its drivers who help D.C. Medicaid participants access health services

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A major D.C. health services contractor systematically failed to pay legally mandated wages to hundreds of workers tasked with helping Medicaid participants get access to important medical services, a suit filed Thursday argues. The suit alleges that Medical Transportation Management, Inc. (MTM), a privately-owned company operating in 28 states nationwide, knowingly denied its non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) drivers the wages entitled to them by federal and D.C. law, with some workers making as little as $3.61/hour.  

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawsuit charges that MTM, which employs hundreds of drivers in Washington, D.C., knowingly and willfully failed to pay proper wages to its NEMT drivers across the city. The lawsuit alleges that the company not only denied these workers compensation at the federally mandated minimum wage, but it also failed to pay living wages as defined by D.C. statues that apply to city contractors. Furthermore, the suit asserts that the company regularly failed to pay its NEMT drivers overtime premiums for work exceeding 40 hours per work week, a violation of federal law and D.C. law.

“It is a cruel irony that drivers who help low-income Washingtonians get access to the medical care they need are themselves impoverished by MTM paying them for only a fraction of the time they work,” said Joseph M. Sellers, Partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the suit. “We trust that this lawsuit will bring a measure of justice to the drivers and force MTM to pay them as the law requires.”

“Corporations have long sought to unlawfully shield themselves from paying required wages to workers through the use of subcontractors or other intermediaries,” said Patrick D. Llewellyn, an attorney at Public Citizen Litigation Group, which is also serving as co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “Both federal and local labor laws, however, have been written and enforced to prevent this form of wage theft, and our lawsuit against MTM will ensure that its workers are finally paid the wages they earned.”

Founded in 1995, MTM is a privately held medical transportation services company based in St. Louis, Mo. Since 2007, MTM has provided non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) services for Medicaid participants in the District of Columbia, having most recently secured a three-year, $85 million contract with the city. These services include picking up program participants at their residence and transporting them to and from their medical appointments. Although MTM works with subcontractors to carry out these services, the company is responsible for hiring and terminating employees, training candidates, retaining employment records, and ensuring that NEMT drivers are paid in accordance with federal and local law.

As noted in the complaint filed today, MTM’s NEMT drivers typically work continuous shifts, with demanding schedules that regularly stretch from 5 A.M. to 8 P.M. Drivers are often required to work well over 60 hours per week, with many drivers regularly working six days a week as well. The complaint alleges that drivers are not given time for lunch or rest, but are instead assigned additional trips when there is time between client trips.

According to the lawsuit, MTM failed to properly compensate drivers for all time worked during these continuous periods. Instead, the employees were routinely paid a flat rate, generally ranging from $325 - $475/week. When divided by the number of hours worked, these flat rates fell below the minimum and living wage standards established by federal and D.C. law, the lawsuit alleges. Furthermore, the complaint accuses the company of denying drivers legally mandated overtime wages for time worked over forty hours per week.

The complaint details the experiences of three current and former NEMT drivers. One of the drivers, Leo Franklin, worked for MTM until 2016 and was regularly required to work 70 hours per week, while often not being provided time for lunch or rest and facing the threat of discipline, lost wages, and even termination if he declined an extra client trip to take a rest. While working as an NEMT driver, the complaint notes that Mr. Franklin was paid a flat rate of as little as $325/week, equating to $3.61/hour. Like many of his colleagues, Mr. Franklin never received overtime pay.

Isaac Harris, one of the other plaintiffs in the proposed class action suit, said: “Even though the days were long and tiring, I know that the work I did as an NEMT driver was vital to serving members of my community that often need our help the most. But by denying us the wages we are owed, MTM is acting with a blatant disregard for our wellbeing, despite all of the time and effort we have dedicated to working for MTM.  We as drivers all share the same compassion for the job, and all that we ask is that MTM act responsibly in paying us the wages we are owed just as we perform our jobs as NEMT drivers responsibly. No employer should be able to take advantage of its workers by paying them less than the minimum wage. By standing up to MTM, I’m standing up for other workers here in the District and around the country.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Mr. Harris and the two other plaintiffs regularly raised concerns about their compensation with MTM and its subcontractors. The complaint notes that at least one driver, Darnell Frye, raised the issue of underpayment with MTM during a training session, but the company refused to take action. The lawsuit further asserts that one plaintiff, Mr. Harris, was terminated after he repeatedly requested to be compensated for all hours worked.  

The issues raised in the lawsuit echo developments in the ongoing legal and political debate surrounding joint employers and their obligations to their workforces. In a recent opinion issued in January 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held a construction general contractor to be a joint employer of workers installing drywall with a subcontractor. In doing so, the court rejected narrow approaches to determining joint employment under the Fair Labor Standards Act—the federal minimum wage and overtime law—and made clear that two entities are joint employers so long as they are “not completely disassociated” with respect to a worker’s employment.  

The lawsuit filed Thursday seeks collective and class-action status for three named plaintiffs and hundreds of other similarly situated NEMT drivers employed by MTM in the District, as well as back pay, liquidated damages and relief for fees associated with the litigation. The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph M. Sellers and Miriam R. Nemeth of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Michael T. Kirkpatrick and Patrick D. Llewellyn of Public Citizen Litigation Group.

About Cohen Milstein

Founded in 1969, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is a national leader in plaintiff class action lawsuits and litigation. As one of the premier firms in the country handling major complex cases, Cohen Milstein, with 90 attorneys, has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Denver, Colo., and Raleigh, N.C. For more information, visit http://www.cohenmilstein.com or call (202) 408-4600.

About Public Citizen Litigation Group

Public Citizen Litigation Group is the litigating arm of Public Citizen Foundation, a national nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1972, the Litigation Group specializes in cases involving health and safety regulation, consumer rights, access to the civil justice system, government transparency, and the First Amendment. For more information, visit https://www.citizen.org/litigation.