COLUMBUS, MT – A federal court has ordered the operator of a Columbus residential care facility to pay $332,972 in back wages and liquidated damages to 35 resident workers after the U.S. Department of Labor found the employer underpaid the workers and violated federal law protecting workers with disabilities.On Dec. 19, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Billings Division entered a consent judgment and order requiring Special K Ranch to pay $166,486 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages to the affected workers.An investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division determined Special K Ranch — which offers living and learning experiences for adults with developmental disabilities — failed to comply with requirements in Section 511 of the Rehabilitation Act, which negated the employer’s ability to pay the subminimum wage associated with its Fair Labor Standards Act’s 14(c) certification. As a result, the division cited the employer for federal minimum wage violations affecting resident workers at the ranch. “The U.S. Department of Labor will exercise its full authority to enforce the terms under which individuals are employed at a subminimum wage,” explained Wage and Hour Southwest Regional Administrator Betty Campbell in Dallas. “Employers holding Section 14(c) certificates cannot pay subminimum wages to any individual with a disability unless they provide information about training opportunities and career counseling in the required timeframes.”Under Section 511, employers must provide information about training opportunities and access to career counseling services to make sure workers paid subminimum wages have access to necessary support and resources to enhance their opportunities to obtain competitive, integrated employment. An employer cannot pay subminimum wages to workers who don’t receive the opportunity to participate in these services.Special K Ranch is a non-profit organization that provides family-oriented homes for 35 lifelong residents. Located along the Yellowstone River, the ranch offers a living and learning experience in a rural agricultural setting. Residents and staff operate a greenhouse and care for livestock, work in several vocational programs and participate in a variety of recreational activities in the surrounding community. Employers and workers can call division staff confidentially with questions, regardless of where they are from, and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages through the agency’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Download the agency’s new, free Timesheet App for Android and iOS devices, available in English and Spanish, to help track work hours and pay.Julie A. Su, Acting Secretary of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor vs. Special K Ranch Inc.Case 1:22-cv-00059-SPW-TJC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *