By Joe Sexton, ProPublica
Emeritus Senior Living, the country's largest assisted living company, has agreed to pay up to $2.2 million to settle claims that it routinely underpaid workers at dozens of its California facilities.
Hands-on workers at Emeritus facilities – the non-salaried aides and support staff who statewide help care for hundreds of often frail seniors – alleged in a lawsuit that the company had not only shortchanged them in their pay, but also violated state laws concerning mandated meal times and rest periods. Workers were denied overtime and not properly compensated for days during which they underwent training sessions, according to the lawsuit.
A recent investigation of Emeritus by ProPublica and PBS Frontline showed that the company's top executives saw controlling labor costs as critical to sustaining the publicly traded company's financial success and maintaining its appeal to investors on Wall Street. The investigation found evidence that the zeal of senior Emeritus officials to cut costs had led to understaffing at many facilities and considerable disgruntlement among remaining staff about their workload and wages.
Emeritus, both in interviews and court papers, has said its close to 500 facilities across the country are adequately staffed and that its workers are properly compensated.
Under the settlement, which needs to be approved next month by a state judge, Emeritus will compensate workers who were employed in its facilities in California from 2007 to 2013. The workers can range from the men and women who bathed and fed the elderly residents to those who administered their medications to those who cleaned the hallways and restrooms of the facilities.
Despite the settlement, Emeritus rejects the accusations made in the lawsuit.