Yesterday, Towards Justice; Nichols Kaster, PLLP; and Donati Law, PLLC filed a class action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against SpecialtyCare on behalf of its surgical neurophysiologists for the company’s use of unfair Training Repayment Agreement Provisions, also known as TRAPs.
SpecialtyCare requires new surgical neurophysiologists to sign a TRAP as a condition of signing up for the job. They have to go through the training while they work full-time jobs as technicians who monitor brain function during surgeries. The training, which involves part-time coursework, lasts no more than a year. But the TRAP debt continues to increase long after training is over.
An employee who quits or is fired for cause within six months will owe SpecialtyCare $15,000, while an employee who quits or is fired for cause after between two and three years will find their debt has doubled to $30,000.
This ballooning debt lays bare the fiction that the TRAP amount is a true reimbursement to SpecialtyCare for the cost of training, exposing it for what it really is: An unlawful attempt to keep workers trapped in underpaid, taxing jobs, where leaving would mean paying back more than half of a years’ salary.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that if the TRAP is for on-the-job training for the benefit of SpecialityCare, then the TRAP violates minimum wage laws because it forces workers to pay back to SpecialityCare the company’s costs of doing business. But if the training really is for the benefit of workers, then it is a predatory student loan subject to federal consumer protection laws including the Truth in Lending Act.
“Becoming a surgical neurophysiologist was a goal and a dream. However, SpecialtyCare turned it into a living nightmare,” said plaintiff Nathan Fuchs. “I left a good-paying career in the same field under the guise of advancement. I was instead placed in a program that was not of the caliber that was advertised, given a salary that was well below the industry standard, and required to work long hours. When I realized the false bill of goods, I was sold it was too late. I was trapped.”
Plaintiff Miguel Dorta agreed. “I felt locked into a contract for 3 years for a job where I sometimes had to work 18 hours or more without a break,” he said. “The company advertises a well paid job with a good life/work balance but uses the TRAP to keep neurophysiologists stuck in jobs with inhuman schedules.
“SpecialtyCare claims it’s charging workers for training, but the debt grows by an additional $15,000 after the training is over,” said Towards Justice attorney Rachel Dempsey. “That doesn’t make sense unless the real purpose of the debt is to keep workers stuck in difficult, low-paying jobs for as long as possible by making it too expensive for them to leave. Contracts like these violate the law, and rob workers across the country of their bargaining power.”
Through its litigation, advocacy before state and federal agencies, and congressional hearings like the testimony Towards Justice’s Executive Director David Seligman gave to the Senate Banking Committee last year, Towards Justice, alongside its law firm and non-profit partners, has been working to help its clients attack employer-driven debt and hold corporations accountable for locking workers into unhealthy, unsafe, and unfair working conditions as a way to increase their own profits.