Employees and former employees of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs have filed suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court alleging wage and hour violations at the now-closed Little Rock Veterans Home and the incident-plagued Fayetteville Veterans Home.
The numbers of people in the class could exceed 50, lawyer John Holleman said today. Holleman represents named plaintiffs Darlene Okeke, Debra Jackson, Rita Culberson, Patricia Burton, Sandra Stewart, Linda Hopkins and Peggy Johnson in the suit against ADVA. Their complaint, filed June
18 12 in Pulaski County Circuit Court, makes several allegations: That they were required to work off the clock and then falsify records to indicate they had not, were not always allowed to take promised compensatory time, and that comp time was awarded on an hour per hour basis rather than the hour and a half that is the rate of pay for overtime. The complaint says the “policy of failing to compensate Plaintiffs for all hours worked” had been in place for more than three years and “is continuing and ongoing.” Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages equal to the unpaid back wages at the overtime rates as well going back three years as well as “liquidated damages” (back pay).
Holleman said one of the plaintiffs, for example, had accumulated 400 hours of comp time but was not allowed to take a day off to go to her child’s wedding. Management was also deducting a half hour from pay for lunch, he said, though employees had to work through lunch to get their jobs done. He said the facilities were understaffed and “mismanaged.”
Holleman said he already has “40 or 50 total plaintiffs,” including a “huge number” from Fayetteville, though the plaintiffs named in the complaint live in Central Arkansas. He said he’ll file a motion for class certification with Circuit Judge Jay Moody, who has been assigned the case.
Kelly Ferguson, a spokesperson for the ADVA, said that none of the employees ever filed a complaint at work about the wage issues. Holleman said that employees had complained to supervisors and were not required to file formal complaints.
ADVA will be represented by the state Attorney General’s Office.
The Fayetteville Veterans Home has been the subject of controversy since at least 2011, when an Office of Long-Term Care report cited numerous violations of standard care, including failure to do wound care, a 26.3 percent medication error rate, failure to treat bedsores, failure to do background checks on 10 employees, failure to provide enough food to a veteran, and so forth. In April of this year, four employees were fired for making false statements to the OTLC; they’d alleged a dementia patient had broken her own arm resisting nurse assistants trying to take a blood sample. At the time, Ferguson was quoted in the Northwest Arkansas Times as saying employees were fearful about speaking up about violations because “If you reported an issue before, sometimes you were put on unpaid leave, no matter what was being investigated.”
The Fayetteville home lost its Medicaid and Medicare qualification for a time, but it has been reinstated. The Little Rock home was closed last year after numerous health care and building code violations were found and after several financial irregularities, including an illegal charge to veterans for maintenance fees that totaled nearly $600,000, was discovered.