Phoenix Houses of Long Island, Inc. faces a lawsuit in which a former residential counselor claims the non-profit substance abuse and rehabilitation center has failed to pay proper overtime wages and retaliated against him for complaining about its compensation practices.
The 34-page proposed class and collective action alleges the defendant, the operator of eight residential and outpatient treatment centers in New York, requires counselors and recovery support staff to put in more than 40 hours per week without time-and-a-half pay for any hour worked beyond 40. Per the case, the defendant has required counselors and support staff to report only 40 weekly hours of work regardless of their actual amounts of work time. The plaintiff additionally claims Phoenix House “refused” to provide him with the documentation he needed to obtain his mental health counseling license, purportedly as a result of his complaints about the defendants’ time-keeping policy.
The plaintiff says he worked as a residential counselor at the defendant’s Long Island City and Lake Ronkonkoma locations while attempting to complete 3,000 hours of counseling experience before applying for his license. According to the suit, the defendant informed the plaintiff and other workers that they were to record on their timecards only 40 hours of work per week given overtime required prior approval.
Despite recording just 40 hours of work per week, the plaintiff frequently put in 45 to 50 hours, including during lunch breaks, after hours, and on days off, according to the suit. The case claims the plaintiff was expected to perform off-the-clock work that included entering log notes, completing paperwork, responding to supervisors’ and coworkers’ requests regarding his clients, handling unexpected events that required crisis management, and completing training. The lawsuit alleges the off-the-clock work was simply a part of the defendant’s policies and practices and encouraged by higher-ups:
“Upon information and belief, Defendant’s upper-management, including Plaintiff’s direct supervisors, were either aware of and/or encouraged Plaintiff and other hourly counselors, RSS support staff and overnight staff to work through lunch breaks, work at home, or stay on-site and continue to work after their shift was scheduled, as part of Defendant’s policies, practices, and procedures with respect to time-keeping and payroll records.”
According to the lawsuit, the defendant in December 2020 transferred to its Lake Ronkonkoma facility from its East Hampton location 12 clients who had tested positive for COVID-19. The case says the plaintiff expressed concern that the staff would be expected to house and treat the 12 clients without “any advanced preparation or notice,” and requested an accommodation for his anxiety after being denied a protected leave of absence. Per the suit, the plaintiff’s accommodation request—i.e., to be temporarily transferred to another location—was denied, and he ultimately stayed home for two weeks without pay, the case says. Though the plaintiff agreed to return to work on the condition that the defendant would install industrial air filters in the his office and throughout the facility, the air filters were never provided, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit goes on to state that when the plaintiff was initially hired by the defendant following a brief internship, he informed his interviewers that he needed a supervisor to oversee his work and submit paperwork to the state upon his completion of 3,000 hours of counseling experience. Per the case, the plaintiff was told during the first few months of his full-time employment that he was not permitted to submit timecards that did not include a 30-minute lunch break, regardless of whether he actually took time to eat a meal. Thereafter, the plaintiff confirmed with his supervisor that although he would record on his timecards only his scheduled hours, he would continue to report nine hours of work per day toward his 3,000-hours requirement given he continued to work through lunch breaks, the suit relays.
When the plaintiff finally completed his 3,000 hours in December 2020, he reached out to his supervisor and was “shocked” to find out that she had not kept accurate records of his hours, the case alleges. While the supervisor said she would get back to the plaintiff about whether she would sign off on his hours, he did not hear from her for over a month, according to the suit. The plaintiff, throughout January and the first few weeks of February 2021, allegedly submitted multiple complaints to the defendant about his supervisors’ failure to track his hours. According to the suit, the supervisor eventually told the plaintiff that she refused to sign off on all of the hours he worked at Phoenix House’s Long Island City location.
The plaintiff says he contacted the defendant’s human resources department to complain that his supervisor had not kept accurate records of his hours, and that he believed Phoenix House was retaliating against him for voicing his concerns about its time-keeping practices. According to the lawsuit, the defendant’s human resources representative told the plaintiff that this was “a personal problem and that she did not want to get involved.”
In a subsequent email, the defendant’s general counsel and chief operating officer told the plaintiff that records showed he had completed only 2,735 hours, as opposed to the 3,001 hours reported on his application, and “mocked” the plaintiff’s anxiety and mental health accommodation request in an unrelated matter, the lawsuit alleges.
The case states the plaintiff ultimately resigned from his position and was unable to get his counseling license because no forms were ever submitted to the state.
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