Regional caregivers’ lawsuit settled

May 12, 2017

More than 3,000 Western Pennsylvania health-care workers were notified last week there has been a settlement in their class-action lawsuit against a fiscal agent, which they accused of failing to pay wages.

The workers provided attendant care services for the disabled in the region, including Washington and Greene counties. The settlement is for $196,000, with payments going to as many as 3,200 class members.

Those individuals claimed in a 2012 lawsuit Christian Financial Management either did not pay them or did not pay in a timely fashion. CFM, the employer/fiscal agent, was under contract with the state Department of Public Welfare to handle payroll services for disabled Pennsylvanians, according to a news release from Community Justice Project, a nonprofit, public-interest Pittsburgh law firm.

Megan Lovett, a CJP attorney, said Pittsburgh-based CFM in turn sued its two predecessors as payroll provider to these clients, bringing them into the class-action case. The suit was filed in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court as Martinez et al. v. CFM, accessAbilities Inc. and Community Resources for Independence.

CFM, according to the law firm, claimed accessAbilities Inc. and Community Resources for Independence were responsible for improper file transfers, resulting in the late or withheld wage payments. An earlier ruling, Lovett said, led to many class members getting their wages in late 2012 or early 2013, so the settlement money is related to penalties and court costs.

The defendants, CPJ said, have denied the claims but agreed to settle for practical and financial reasons. A call to the CFM offices prompted a recorded message saying the number was no longer in use, with no further information.

Traditional Paths to Independent Living provides attendant services to the disabled, and has links to the lawsuit. Kathleen Kleinmann, CEO of Washington-based TRPIL, said she could not comment on the settlement.

John Lorence, a TRPIL employee and longtime advocate for people with disabilities, was affected by the payment issue in 2012. Lorence, who died in May 2016 at age 62, was a Carmichaels resident with muscular dystrophy. He could not use his arms and legs.

In a telephone interview with the Observer-Reporter’s Barbara Miller in August 2012, he said, “My attendants do everything for me.” Under the state’s program of “attendant care,” Lorence was in charge of hiring, training, scheduling and, if necessary, dismissing caregivers.

Lorence said, at that time ,he had submitted time sheets, but attendants hadn’t been paid for two time periods. He said he paid them from taxpayer money he received through a different state program, Act 150, even though the funds were supposed to be used for other purposes. “It’s a violation of my service agreement,” he said, “but I’m willing to risk that to stay alive.”

The law firm’s Lovett said in an email that “five of John Lorence’s attendant care workers are members” of the class-action suit.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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