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Parents Sue Sheltered Workshop For Abusing Workers/Clients
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 21, 2004

BROKEN ARROW, OKLAHOMA--A Tulsa-area sheltered workshop is being sued for abuse, neglect, providing a hazardous working environment and underpaying its workers with developmental disabilities.

According to a brief article in Tulsa World, eight parents and guardians of adult workers filed a federal lawsuit last Wednesday against A New Leaf Inc. The non-profit program provides sheltered services, under contract with the state Department of Human Services, in a retail greenhouse.

The suit alleges 14 incidents of abuse, including one in which a staff member said a worker with Down syndrome "looked like a Chinaman"; two others in which a staff member twisted the arm of a worker behind her back twice after the woman asked for more food during a meal; an another in which a worker was forced to work in a greenhouse where temperatures were above 106 degrees.

At least three different times, the suit claims, staff members left workers with disabilities unattended while taking 2-hour lunches away from the premises.

Additionally, the suit accuses A New Leaf of exploiting workers by underpaying or failing to pay them for their work.

Federal law allows sheltered workshops to pay less than minimum wage in certain circumstances, based in part on how fast the worker with disabilities performs the work. The law does require workshops to follow very specific guidelines when measuring that performance, however.

Todd Singer, the attorney representing the families, said they will seek a temporary restraining order to have the agency's executive director and five other staff members removed, and to have repairs made immediately in the horticulture facility, including fixing a severe sewage gas leak.

"Over the last several years, following a change in administration, the environment has become dangerous and degrading, so much so that a group of brave, concerned parents and guardians have taken the extraordinary act of seeking the federal court's protection," Singer said.

The agency's executive direct told Tulsa World she could not comment on the suit until she had reviewed it.

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