WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced a wage theft lawsuit against a company operating supported-living facilities and its former owners for denying frontline health care workers the wages they were due after working extended hours for patients during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Azure Healthcare Services, LLC (Azure) operated six supported-living residences in the District for individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Before the company was sold by its owners, Azure had around 50 employees who served in caregiving, counseling, and support roles for the residents. The lawsuit alleges that the company failed to pay employees the full wages they were owed and overtime wages.
“Denying caregivers and health care workers their hard-earned wages – during the world’s deadliest pandemic – is shameful, illegal, and morally reprehensible,” said AG Racine. “These workers stepped up and did their jobs – working long hours at the company’s request during an unprecedented time for patients in need. They deserve to get paid for that work. Azure Healthcare Services and its former owners prioritized profits over their employees’ livelihoods and well-being and they must be held accountable. If you are a company that cheats workers of their wages, my office will do everything possible to put that money back into the pockets of workers.”
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the former owners put the facilities on “lock down,” requiring the staff to work for two-week continuous shifts during which they remained in their facility 24 hours a day. The employees were “on call,” and were expected to be working and available to residents for the full 24 hours of each day of their two-week shifts. During that time, employees were not paid for their full shifts, nor were they paid hazard pay that they were promised.
In the District, employees are protected by the Minimum Wage Revision Act (MWRA), which requires employers to pay a minimum wage that is presently $15.20/hour and overtime rates when employees work over 40 hours per week. The District’s minimum wage law requires every employer who chooses to do business in the District to guarantee fair payment to all workers.
OAG’s complaint alleges that Azure and its former owners violated the District’s MWRA by:
- Failing to pay wages owed: They failed to pay employees for six hours of work each day of their two-week shift, totaling 84 hours of unpaid labor per employee per two-week shift. Additionally, the company and owners also promised to pay employees $3 per hour in hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the employees never received.
- Failing to pay overtime wages: On top of failing to pay employees for those six hours of work each day during their two-week shifts, given the amount of time these employees worked each week on their two-week shifts in critical frontline jobs during the pandemic, all of these unpaid hours are owed at the overtime pay rate of 1.5 times the regular wage.
In this lawsuit, OAG is seeking damages, penalties, and an injunction against the Defendants for violating District law.
A copy of the complaint is available here.
OAG’s Efforts to Protect Workers
Since gaining independent authority to investigate and bring wage theft cases in 2017, OAG has launched more than 50 investigations into wage theft and payroll fraud. OAG uses its enforcement authority to bring lawsuits and has taken action against a home health care provider, KFC franchises, a cell phone retailer, multiple construction companies, a security company, a café chain, and other businesses that harmed District workers. AG Racine also testified before Congress to highlight findings from an OAG report about how worker misclassification hurts workers, undercuts law-abiding businesses, and cheats taxpayers. In January 2020, OAG secured its largest wage theft settlement to date, requiring Power Design—a major electrical contractor—to pay $2.75 million to hundreds of harmed workers and the District over wage theft and worker misclassification claims. In September 2021, AG Racine hosted a roundtable discussion with workers and advocates to help workers understand their rights. In October 2021, AG Racine sued several construction companies for workers misclassification and for failing to provide overtime and sick leave.
AG Racine has also worked to hold gig economy companies accountable for following the same laws as brick-and-mortar businesses, including wage and hour laws. OAG sued food delivery service, DoorDash, for its practice of misleading and encouraging consumers to tip for food deliveries, and then pocketing those tips instead of passing them along to workers. OAG recovered $1.5 million in restitution that was returned to DoorDash drivers to replace tips the company kept for itself. OAG also sued Instacart for including “service fees” on its platform that looked much like a tip for workers, but instead went to profit Instacart. OAG recovered $950,000 in restitution to car owners that experienced theft or damage to their vehicles while listed on the platform from Getaround, a car-sharing company, for failing to pay its taxes and misrepresenting its safety and security features. In January, OAG sued Arise Virtual Solutions, a customer service support company, and Comcast Cable Communications Management for failing to pay legally due wages to customer service agents.