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Many people with disabilities want to work, but face barriers: discrimination, inaccessible work places, insufficient adaptive technologies, inflexible job duties, unavailable services to prepare for work, and, if hired, loss of essential benefits and medical insurance that can not be replaced by working incomes. Disability Rights Ohio offers information, publications, referrals, advocacy, legal counsel and representation to assist people with disabilities to prepare for, to enter, and to remain in the work place.

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Seneca Sheltered Workshop Case

Three individuals with disabilities have successfully challenged unlawful wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act and are now alleging employment discrimination by their employers Seneca Re-Ad Industries and the Roppe Corporation in Fostoria, Ohio.

Administrative review of subminimum wages

In November 2015, Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the Baltimore law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP, used a rarely used procedure called an administrative law review to fight for better pay for three employees of Seneca Re-Ad, a sheltered workshop in Seneca County. Joe Magers, Pam Steward and Mark Felton had been working for an average of $2.50 an hour for more than three years at the workshop, which creates flooring samples for Roppe Corporation, a private company.

Since the 1930s, federal law has permitted employers to pay workers with disabilities less than minimum wage, but only if the worker is “disabled for the work being performed.” In this case, Seneca Re-Ad had not done any analysis of whether Mr. Magers, Ms. Steward or Mr. Felton were “disabled for the work” they were performing, and indeed their employment records showed that they often produced at high levels.

In February 2016, the administrative law judge who heard the case found that all three clients had been erroneously paid subminimum wage in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Judge awarded all three clients back pay and ordered that they be paid minimum wage going forward. The question of back pay is still in the appeals process, but Mr. Magers, Ms. Steward and Mr. Felton have all earned minimum wage since then.

ADA complaint

In December 2018, DRO and Brown, Goldstein & Levy filed a federal lawsuit, with the support of NFB, against Roppe Corporation, Seneca Re-Ad and the Seneca County Board of Developmental Disabilities. The complaint outlines a number of ways in which Roppe Corporation, a well-known flooring manufacturer that reported sales of $72.7 million in 2017, publicly considers Seneca Re-Ad a critical part of its organization but fails to meet its equal employment responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. This includes providing employees with disabilities equal opportunity to the same employment options and benefits available to all employees. In addition, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities when needed to help them do their job. For example, a reasonable accommodation might be specialized training or a modified piece of equipment.

Roppe clients are often given tours of the organization’s manufacturing facilities, with a stop at what it calls its Sampling Division – the Seneca Re-Ad facility where people with disabilities turn out more than 25 million merchandise samples each year. But these highly productive employees, including plaintiffs Mr. Magers, Ms. Steward and Mr. Felton, are not paid the prevailing wage offered to other Roppe employees, are denied robust cross-training and the chance to advance through the company, and do not receive the same benefits, including health insurance, vacation time or retirement plans.

The lawsuit also says that Seneca Re-Ad has denied Mr. Magers, Ms. Steward and Mr. Felton reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, which are required by the ADA.

Looking forward

DRO hopes that Roppe Corporation will see the recent federal complaint as an opportunity to lead the way in the manufacturing sector by providing truly integrated employment for people with disabilities.

Related court documents

Administrative Law Complaint - November 19, 2015

Administrative Law Judge's Opinion and Order - February 3, 2016

ADA Complaint - December 18, 2018

Related media releases

Administrative Law Complaint Press Release - November 19, 2015

Press Release on Administrative Law Judge's Opinion - February 3, 2016

ADA Complaint Press Release - December 18, 2018

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