Oklahoma City, OK (WorkersCompensation.com) - The Oklahoma ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday alleging human trafficking and wage/hour violations against a drug recovery program.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven men who participated in D.A.R.P., Inc., a drug and alcohol recovery program, located in Tahlequah, OK. According to the suit, the men entered the treatment program in order to avoid jail time. As part of the program, the men worked, sometimes six days a week, for DARP’s clients, but were never paid for their labor.
During their time in the program, the men were provided with little drug treatment outside of forced church attendance, lived in squalid conditions and were forced to work, even if injured on the job.
But, DARP was paid for the men’s labor, said Amy Gioletti, an attorney with the OK ACLU. In an interview with WorkersCompensation.com, Gioletti said DARP, similar in nature to Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery, were the two largest such drug recovery programs in the state, out of a handful of such operations.
“The way the employment works, DARP contracted with clients such as Simmons Foods, or Hendren Plastics,” Gioletti said. “The plaintiffs performed the labor for the clients, and the clients pay DARP for the plaintiffs’ services. The plaintiffs never saw a dime of that money.”
While Giolettie said she didn’t have the exact figure on how much money DARP received on behalf of the men, she did say that employees not in the DARP program typically made a starting wage of $9.25 per hour. DARP program participants worked more than 40 hours a week, sometimes as much as 63 hours a week, and that the program had hundreds if not thousands of participants over the course of 10 years.
The company also forced program participants to work even if they were injured on the job. According to Gioletti, if a participant couldn’t work, he was no longer valuable to the organization. In some cases, if you were injured and couldn’t work for a day, another day was added on to the men’s stay in the program.
One of the participants, Kenneth Michael Troxel, said that while he was working at one of DARP’s client companies, R&R Engineering, he was struck in the eye by a piece of steel. Troxel said he did not seek medical treatment for the injury, as he had seen other men kicked out of the program for claiming workplace injuries.
Another defendant, Codie Shreve, worked in Simmons Foods, processing chickens. Shreve worked with his hands, eviscerating chickens, sometimes as much as 12 hours a day, six days a week. When Shreve complained of hand pain to DARP officials, he was told if he could not work, he would be dismissed from the program. Instead of receiving medical care, Shreve continued to work, sometimes soaking his hands in hot wax to reduce the swelling.
Later, Shreve got a staph infection in his leg. Because of the hot and wet work conditions, the infection grew worse. When Shreve asked the DARP managers for medical treatment, he was told if he could not work, he would be released from the program. Instead, Shreve sought medical care through a free clinic offered by Simmons Foods, where his infection was treated with antibiotics. Later, staff at DARP charged Shreve for the treatment, according to the lawsuit. When the infection didn’t heal, he told his father about it, who took him to a nearby hospital for treatment. After the physician lanced and cleaned out the infection, the physician gave him a note requesting that he not be put in the same working conditions until the infection healed. Staff at DARP told Shreve not to seek medical attention while in the DARP program, and that if he could not work, he would be removed from the program.
Representatives from DARP did not return calls or emails for comment by press time.
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