Judge's Ruling Could Have Impact On Requiring Work At Drug Recovery Programs

Nov 11, 2019

Arkansas Senate President Pro Tem Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) speaking with reporters on Jan. 11, 2019. His company Hendren Plastics was named in a federal lawsuit regarding unpaid wages to participants of a drug recovery program.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A federal judge has ruled a drug recovery program and a company owned by an Arkansas state lawmaker violated labor laws by requiring participants to work full-time without getting paid. It’s considered an alternative to jail time, but U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks said the two entities manipulated the labor market for their own benefit.

Arkasnas Business reporter Mark Friedman wrote about that in this week's issue:

A Washington County drug court judge offered Levi Crowe a choice in 2016: a drug recovery program or jail. It was an easy choice, but Crowe had no idea that recovery would include working full time for no pay.

The Garland County man wound up in the care of DARP Inc. The nonprofit, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, offers drug and alcohol recovery services at its 60-bed facility in Decatur (Benton County) and requires participants to work full time for the duration of the program, at least six months. If the residents, who are provided room and board, don’t work, they could return to drug court and land in jail.

Crowe, like other residents, ended up at Hendren Plastics Inc., a plastics plant in Gravette owned by state Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette. There Crowe worked about 40 hours a week, or more, without getting paid. Instead, Hendren Plastics paid DARP directly for the participants’ work; the residents got none of the money.

In 2017, DARP residents sought a class-action lawsuit against DARP and Hendren Plastics, alleging the residents were entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. DARP argued that the residents weren’t employees and weren’t subject to the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act.

DARP “essentially functioned as a staffing agency,” said attorney Tim Steadman of the Little Rock law firm Holleman & Associates. He and his firm represented about 175 members of the plaintiff class. Hendren Plastics paid DARP for the work the residents did “at a lower rate than Hendren could buy it for on the market. … DARP gets all the money from this arrangement,” Steadman said.

KUAR's Michael Hibblen spoke with Friedman about his story, which Arkansas Business subscribers can read here (behind a paywall.)