Family Alleges University and Frat Ignored Known Hazing Traditions that Resulted in Son’s Death

Baton Rouge, La.,  August 16, 2018 – Today, the parents of Maxwell (Max) Gruver, the Louisiana State University (LSU) freshman who tragically died from alcohol poisoning as a result of hazing in 2017, filed a federal lawsuit against LSU, the local and national chapters of Phi Delta Theta, the housing corporation that owns Phi Delta Theta’s fraternity house at LSU, and members of the fraternity.  Max’s parents allege the hazing ritual that caused his death would never have taken place if LSU or Phi Delta Theta had responded appropriately to numerous complaints of hazing at Phi Delta Theta’s chapter at LSU in the years before Max’s death.

The Gruver family alleges in their lawsuit that LSU’s and Phi Delta Theta’s failure to end the tradition of hazing at the chapter was driven by a broken model of self-governance and outdated gender stereotypes about young men engaging in masculine rites of passage — in direct violation of Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination.  According to the family’s Complaint, because of LSU’s policy and practice of treating the hazing of male students less seriously than the hazing of female students, males participating in Greek Life face serious and substantial risks of injury and death, while female students pledging sororities do not.  LSU’s policy and practice meant that a sorority accused of hazing its pledges by making them sing songs and do sit-ups and putting whipped cream, syrup and eggs in their hair was given “Total Probation” by LSU – the most severe sanction LSU can impose, short of rescinding its recognition of the sorority – while Phi Delt’s chapter, which admitted to hazing in 2016, was only placed on interim suspension for a month.

“We refuse to accept that the events that caused Max’s death can be explained away as ‘boys being boys,’” said Mr. and Mrs. Gruver in a statement.  “That notion is deeply offensive and wrong-headed. LSU and Phi Delt knew dangerous hazing was taking place at Phi Delt’s LSU chapter for years, yet they continued to allow the chapter and its members to investigate and police themselves. This inaction allowed dangerous hazing traditions at the chapter to persist.  We’ve lost Max as result of those hazing traditions, and his loss has created a devastating impact that reaches not just us, but Max’s siblings, family, friends, and all who knew him.  Until institutions and national fraternities begin treating the hazing of young men as the serious offense that is, with real consequences for members and local chapters that engage in it, hazing and other dangerous misconduct at fraternities will continue.  And each year, more families like ours will have to suffer through these horrific tragedies.”

“Every year, and for decades, young men have died or suffered traumatic injuries pledging fraternities that are dangerous, yet glowingly promoted with false and misleading information by the partnerships between fraternities and universities,” said Douglas Fierberg, legal counsel for the Gruver family.  “A central purpose of this lawsuit is to compel LSU, Phi Delta Theta and other universities to eliminate dangerous hazing traditions, end the killing of young men, and stop lying to students and families who have the right to know information that may save lives.”

To learn more about this case and the Gruver’s fight to stop hazing, please visit The Max Gruver Foundation.


What is Bitcoin Anyway?

You’ve likely heard Bitcoin discussed on the news recently.  At one point, Bitcoin skyrocketed to $19,000 in a matter of weeks, only to plummet in value shortly thereafter (it’s valued around $8,000 as of 4/18/18).  It’s not unheard of for its value to fluctuate 20-30% daily. Bitcoin will likely remain a highly volatile investment as the general public, Wall Street, and world governments come to terms with it.  So what exactly is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin was invented in 2009 to be a new, purely digital currency (known as a cryptocurrency).  Satoshi Nakamoto developed bitcoin as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system allowing online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.[1]  Satoshi Nakamoto’s true identity is a mystery, as this name is widely believed to be a pseudonym.  Whoever Nakamoto is, he or she is a billionaire. When bitcoin’s value surged to $19,000, this anonymous owner of 980,000 bitcoins was worth $19.4 billion.[2]

What differentiates bitcoin from traditional currency is its decentralized design.  It is not created and distributed by a central authority, in the way the US Federal Reserve and other central banks mint and control their currencies.  The bitcoin system is maintained by an open network of computers spread around the world.[3]  Central banks can manipulate their currency’s value relative to others by controlling its supply.  Since Bitcoin isn’t controlled by a single entity, its value cannot be manipulated by fluctuations in supply.  The supply of bitcoin is tightly regulated by its underlying algorithm, only releasing a few bitcoin each hour.  People can “mine” bitcoin by using specialized computers to solve highly complex mathematical equations, which verify and authenticate each bitcoin transaction.  Bitcoin is the reward for performing this service, a self-sustaining incentive helping maintain the integrity of the bitcoin system.

The mechanism for recording each bitcoin transaction is also very unique.  A financial institution or bank maintains a ledger of all their client’s transaction records, likely stored on a centralized computer server.  However, every single bitcoin transaction is stored publicly on a massive, decentralized, and continuously updating digital ledger – collectively known as the “blockchain.”  After each encrypted transaction is authenticated (in the “mining” process), the record of that transaction is added to a “block” – which is comprised of other authenticated transactions bundled together.  That “block” is then added to the end of the existing “chain.”

As the “blockchain” continues building upon itself, you can’t go back and edit blocks in the chain to alter previous transactions.[4]  Tampering with the blockchain is nearly impossible.  To alter the target transaction, you’d have to change every single transaction that followed as well.  

There are certainly some problems bitcoin’s facing (discussed in The Downside of Bitcoin), but regardless of its success or failure, “blockchain” technology has immense potential (discussed in The Future of Blockchain).

 

 

[1] Bitcoin Whitepaper, https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

[2] https://qz.com/1159188/bitcoin-price-approaches-20000-making-satoshi-nakamoto-worth-19-4-billion/

[3] https://www.coindesk.com/information/what-is-bitcoin/

[4] https://www.cnet.com/news/blockchain-explained-builds-trust-when-you-need-it-most/


New Ruling: Government Needs Warrant to Access Cell Phone Records

Keeping pace with technological changes, the Supreme Court ruled on June 22, 2018 that the government is now required to issue a warrant to obtain cell phone records containing cell phone tower location data, including other types of digital data that provides a detailed look at a person’s private life. However, the Court carved out specific exceptions, including bomb threats, child abductions, and other incidences when inaction could result in irreparable harm.  

The Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement to retrieve necessary records, including but not limited to, location data, cell phone records, bank records, etc. when probable cause is shown. The new ruling may slow down law enforcement’s capacity to turn over cases due to the new litigation required to access such records; however, the Court’s ruling is a significant victory for privacy rights advocates. Read more on the matter here.


How a Genealogy Company Helped Catch a Serial Killer

Police in California recently captured a serial killer that killed at least 12 people and raped dozens of women in the 1970s and 80s. Police were finally able to track him down using a genealogy website called GEDmatch. Users of GEDmatch can upload their results from companies like 23andme or Ancestry (which do the actual DNA sequencing) to locate distant relatives and create family trees. The police created a fake profile for the killer, uploaded his genetic profile and found a match with a female relative. After locating the man police believed was the killer, they waited outside his home to collect DNA from his trash. It is legal for police to surveil your house and take your garbage; you do not have Fourth Amendment protections from searches or seizures of trash that you leave on the curb. Once the DNA sample from the trash conclusively matched the DNA collected from a crime scene in the 1970s, police knew they had found the right person.

While it is undoubtedly a good thing this serial killer will be brought to justice, many have expressed concerns over the privacy and ethical issues these police tactics raise. In recent years DNA testing has become very popular for people to trace where their family originated. These services have also expanded to analyze DNA markers for particular diseases, or genetic traits showing susceptibility to certain types of cancer. However, it is unlikely that any of the consumers of these products envisioned that submitting their DNA would be used for their arrest or even a relative’s arrest. These companies and genealogists are worried that the police tactics and publicity from this case will scare people away from using these services in the future. 

However, the police acted within the law in this case. The website GEDmatch is a public, open-source site that anyone can use, so there is no reason law enforcement should be precluded from using it. Even though 23andme and Ancestry were not involved in this case, law enforcement could issue a subpoena or warrant to these companies to locate a suspect. Also, the FBI already has its nationwide DNA database that state and local law enforcement agencies use for investigations. After sequencing a DNA sample, police can upload it into this database for cross-referencing, to see if it matches someone already in the system.

It is foreseeable that law enforcement will continue to use methods like this to solve cold cases. Police are currently attempting to use the same method to identify the Zodiac Killer, another California serial killer case that has been cold for decades. There will always be privacy and ethical concerns when we willingly turn over our data to third parties. These companies may use data improperly, leave it insecure against hackers, or turn it over to law enforcement after receiving a subpoena or warrant. You may not be concerned about these companies or law enforcement having your DNA now, but it’s good to be mindful of how it may be used in the future.

  1. https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/health/dna-privacy-golden-state-killer-genealogy.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur
  2. https://m.sfgate.com/business/technology/article/Use-of-DNA-in-serial-killer-probe-sparks-privacy-12868330.php
  3. https://www.fbi.gov/services/laboratory/biometric-analysis/codis/codis-and-ndis-fact-sheet
  4. https://apnews.com/ac6bb05bbe754dbfbaa57e0cfef5a878

What’s Driving Uber’s Pursuit of Driverless Cars?

On March 18th, a self-driving Uber car being tested in Arizona killed a pedestrian. The autonomous Volvo SUV struck a woman crossing the street outside of the crosswalk. There was a driver behind the wheel, but the car was in autonomous mode at the time of the accident. Uber began testing their Volvo SUVs in Arizona in February of last year. Uber is also testing its autonomous fleet in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto, and Phoenix. After this accident, Uber suspended the self-driving testing in all of these cities.

The economic potential that autonomous vehicles represent has triggered a high-stakes competition between Uber, Google, Apple, Tesla, and major car manufacturers. These massive companies are in a race to be the first to achieve true autonomy, and are throwing loads of money at solving the problem. The company that finds a solution first stands to gain a significant market advantage over everyone still catching up. Truly autonomous vehicles could wipe out the trucking industry, taxi industry, and delivery industry in one fell swoop. Full automation of the $719 billion trucking industry could result in labor cost savings of about $300 billion. Thus, there’s a huge economic incentive for eliminating human drivers.

This heated competition has triggered lawsuits. Google’s Waymo sued Uber, alleging theft of trade secrets. A week into trial, Waymo and Uber reached a settlement, but the lawsuit resulted in some dirty laundry being aired out. The discovery process revealed the internal communications of these companies, shedding light on the mindsets of top executives. A win-at-all-costs mentality and desperation about coming in second was evident between both companies. Emails between Uber executives revealed their desire to “take all the shortcuts we can” because they saw it as “a race we need to win, second place is the first loser.”

Between 2014-2016, about 37,000 people died in car crashes each year. Part of the push for driverless cars and trucks has been increased safety and fatality reduction. Proponents of autonomous vehicles argue that a computer will make far fewer errors than human drivers, considering computers will not get distracted by phones, get tired, get drunk, etc. However, the Waymo-Uber trial inadvertently revealed that Uber’s motivation lies in achieving market dominance.

Additional fatalities are likely to happen as this technology proliferates and becomes more common, but any PR spin from Uber about its commitment to safety may ring hollow due to the short-cut strategy endorsed by its executives. More importantly, Uber will face massive legal liability for wrongful deaths and injuries if plaintiffs show safety concerns were ignored in pursuit of winning the race.

Uber is fully aware of this potential liability. From a cynical perspective, it’s possible that Uber believes the profits they stand to gain from winning will dwarf wrongful death and personal injury losses by so much that shortcuts are worth it. Thus, paying for fatalities and injuries may just be a cost of doing business in Uber’s quest to dominate the autonomous car market.


How Tech Caught the Austin Bomber

For three weeks in March, a serial bomber terrorized Austin, Texas. Mark Anthony Conditt killed two people and injured several others. The manhunt gripped the nation, drawing comparisons to the search for the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who eluded capture for decades until the FBI caught him in 1995. However, technology has improved dramatically since the ’90s and played a central role in quickly ending the Austin bomber’s reign of terror.

 

Surveillance Footage and ALPR Cameras

The first three bombings were from packages left on a doorstep by the bomber. The bomber used a tripwire for the fourth bombing. The bomber’s final attempted method was mailing a bomb through FedEx, which exploded at a sorting facility near Austin. Authorities tracked it back to the drop-off location at a FedEx retail store. Surveillance footage captured the bomber dropping off the package in disguise, as well as the license plate number of his vehicle.

Police were likely able to track the direction the vehicle went, or where it had been in the past, using what’s known as Automated License Plate Readers. Austin, like many big cities around the country, uses ALPRs. They’re similar to red light cameras, but you won’t see them unless you know where to look. ALPRs are high-speed camera systems typically mounted on light poles, traffic lights, overpasses, and squad cars, which can change locations. They capture the license plate of every single passing vehicle, which is then uploaded into a searchable database. With ALPRs placed sporadically throughout a city, police can piece together the movements of a suspect’s vehicle.

 

Cell Phone Tracking

Prior to catching the bomber on camera at the FedEx store, law enforcement tried to track down the suspect using the cell towers near the bombings. Law enforcement can issue a search warrant for a “tower dump” to provide historical records of all traffic on certain cell towers on specific dates. The FBI’s cellular analysis survey teams sorted through a vast amount of data from the cell towers and were able to zero in on the phone numbers that showed up repeatedly at each of the bombing sites.

However, once police obtained the bomber’s license plate, they were able to link that plate to his cell phone number. Then they could issue a search warrant to the phone provider for a detailed record of the cell towers his phone connected to in the past. Police could also issue a warrant to track the phone’s current location using cell tower triangulation. “Pinging” the phone reveals the three towers surrounding the target; calculating distances from each of the towers allows investigators to pinpoint a precise location.

A more powerful (and more controversial) tool used by the FBI is known as a “Stingray” device. A Stingray acts as a “cell-site simulator” or a fake tower, forcing all cellular devices in the area to connect to it. The device can fit in the trunk of a car, allowing law enforcement to drive around an area looking for a particular phone. It’s controversial because every other innocent phone in the area has its data scooped up as well.

 

Google Search History

Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for the bomber’s Google search history, revealing searches they found suspicious, as well as searches of other addresses in Austin.  Police were also able to track down store receipts of common household items he used to make the bombs, further confirming their belief that Conditt was the bomber.

 

Conclusion

Using all of these tools, police tracked Conditt’s location to a hotel outside of Austin. Police and federal agents gathered around the hotel awaiting more backup when Conditt got in his vehicle and drove away. Police followed and forced him to stop on the side of the interstate.  As a SWAT team approached his vehicle, he detonated a bomb, killing himself. Technology can often be over intrusive, but it certainly deserves much of the credit for quickly neutralizing this serial bomber.

 

  1. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/22/us/austin-explosions-investigation/index.html
  2. https://www.eff.org/pages/automated-license-plate-readers-alpr
  3. https://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2018-03-22/ap-explains-how-a-phone-may-have-steered-hunt-for-bomber
  4. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trail-austin-bombing-suspect-combined-high-tech-old-fashioned-techniques-n858791
  5. Order under 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) (Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et. seq.)
  6. Order under “Hybrid” authority of the SCA and the Pen / Trap Statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3121–3127
  7. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-22/how-a-phone-steered-the-hunt-for-texas-parcel-bomber/9576040
  8. https://www.statesman.com/news/breaking-austin-bombing-suspect-dies-police-close-official-says/KZmUAGvKlNazDr31EzeUzI/

Don Cazayoux Joins Branden Fremin on an Interview With Jim Engster

Recently, Cazayoux Ewing partner and Former US Attorney Don Cazayoux had the pleasure of joining current US Attorney Brandon Fremin on Talk Louisiana with Jim Engster. The two discuss the challenges and responsibilities of the US Attorney office and its role in Louisiana’s Middle District. Listen in to hear Don and Brandon answer federal law enforcement questions from the community and share their thoughts about cracking down on drug-related crime in Baton Rouge. Click here to listen to the show! 


LOUISIANA’S 2017 CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM PACKAGE

Louisiana holds the unfortunate title of having the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world.¹  Being the number one incarcerator takes a toll on the state’s resources; Louisiana spent $625 million on adult corrections in 2017.²  With the hope of shedding that ranking and its associated costs, the Louisiana legislature passed a sweeping criminal justice reform package, which Governor John Bel Edwards signed into law.  The amended criminal laws aim to decrease our prison population and government spending, primarily by:

  • Reducing sentences and probationary periods for certain crimes
  • Easing eligibility requirements for drug court, reentry programs, probation, or suspension of sentence
  • Reducing sentencing enhancements for habitual offenders
  • Changing the calculation of “good time” credit for prisoners

Sentencing Guidelines

The justice reform package changed the sentencing guidelines for many non-violent felonies.³  Several of the maximum sentences were reduced and some mandatory minimum sentences were eliminated.  A few examples:

  • The mandatory minimum sentence for “Felon in possession of a firearm” was reduced from 10 years to 5 years.
  • “Money laundering” more than $100,000 was reduced from a 5 – 99 year sentence to 2 – 50 years.
  • The maximum sentence for “Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle” was reduced from 10 years to 2 years.
  • Simple arson no longer has a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years, with a new sentencing range of 0 – 15 years.

Louisiana’s “Theft” statute bases the severity of punishment on the value of the property stolen. The new law adjusted the dollar value ranges, making some of the penalties more lenient.⁸  For example, a theft under $750 formerly resulted in a zero to six month sentence (misdemeanor) and anything more than that amount was a felony.  Now, the misdemeanor/theft threshold has been raised to $1,000.  Other similar statutes that use this dollar amount threshold followed the same pattern: issuing worthless checks, residential contractor fraud10, access device fraud11, and organized retail theft12, to name a few.

Probation, “Good Time,” and Parole

The changes to the criminal code expanded the ability of judges to suspend a sentence for certain crimes, placing the defendant on probation rather than in prison.13  Defendants charged with drug-related crimes are now eligible for substance abuse probation programs.  Also, entry into the drug division probation program was expanded to permit defendants charged with a crime of violence, as long as the crime was not against a family member or dating partner and does not carry a maximum sentence over 10 years.

Inmates will now earn “good time” more easily, which is a way for them to earn credit toward an earlier release from prison.  For non-violent and non-sex offenses, the new changes increase “good time” to a rate of 13 days for every 7 served, or an extra 130 days annually shaved off their sentence.  Certain inmates can reduce their prison time by participating in educational programs, drug programs, and work programs.

The new law changes the time the defendant must serve prior to becoming eligible for parole. Now, for non-violent crimes and non-sex offense crimes, defendants are parole eligible once 25 percent of their sentence has been served, including those sentenced as a non violent habitual offender.  Upon a first conviction for a crime of violence, a defendant with no prior sex crime convictions will be eligible for parole once 65 percent of the sentence is served.

Sentencing Enhancements for Habitual Offenders

Due to Louisiana’s habitual offender statute, a defendant convicted of a felony can receive a significantly enhanced sentence if they have a prior felony conviction.  Those enhancements are no longer quite as harsh.14  The mandatory minimum sentences have been reduced.  Also, for certain felonies, the “cleansing period” has been shortened from 10 years to 5 years.  The “cleansing period” means that after a certain amount of time has passed, prosecutors can no longer use a defendant’s previous convictions against him.

Conclusion

This article is merely a brief overview of what Louisiana’s criminal justice reform package entails.  The changes made to our criminal statutes were vast, but also highly specific depending on the crime. The date when certain aspects begin to take effect and to whom they apply will also vary person to person.  If you believe these changes may affect the charges you or a loved one face, or if they may affect your sentence or probation, do not hesitate to contact the Cazayoux Ewing Law Firm.  As former federal prosecutors, these experienced attorneys understand the nuances of the changes to our criminal law and will provide you with a tailored analysis of your situation.

 


[1] http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/05/louisiana_incarceration_rate.html

[2] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/16/louisiana-has-the-highest-incarceration-rate-in-th/

[3] Act 281/S.B. 220, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051860

[4] (La. R.S. 14:95.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78740

[5] (La. R.S. 14:230) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78382

[6] (La. R.S. 14:68.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78631

[7] (La. R.S. 14:52) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78556

[8] (La. R.S. 14:67) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78605

[9]  (La. R.S. 14:71) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78645

[10] (La. R.S. 14:202.1) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=508538

[11] (La. R.S. 14:70.4) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=78642

[12] (La. R.S. 14:67.25) – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?d=451833

[13] Act 280/S.B. 139, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051859

[14] Act 282/S.B. 221, 2017 Regular Session – http://www.legis.la.gov/Legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=1051861

 


Alexa and Uber Take the Stand: Your Data as a Witness

Silicon Valley’s amazing technology has made our lives easier. Voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can tell us the weather, play our favorite music on command, and add grocery items to our shopping lists. With the tap of a button, we can catch a ride using the Uber app. Countless other products offer similar conveniences and provide greater simplicity to our lives. However, this added convenience comes with strings attached.

By using these products, we generate vast amounts of data. These giant tech companies store that information to improve their products (and their targeted advertising). This data is increasingly entering the crosshairs of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes. By putting enough pieces of your digital footprint together, law enforcement can generate a pretty complete picture of a person’s life.

Law enforcement is relying more and more on digital evidence because of how enlightening (or incriminating) this information can be. Warrants for a cell phone search are commonplace in today’s world, but as Silicon Valley develops newer products, law enforcement sees additional opportunities to gather evidence.

Recently, police in Arkansas turned their sights on an Amazon Echo smart speaker found in a murder suspect’s home. The Amazon Echo has a built-in microphone that is always listening, waiting for the user to issue a command. According to Amazon, the speaker only starts recording once it hears “Alexa.” Amazon stores the recorded commands or questions that follow in a database to improve its voice-recognition accuracy.

Police issued Amazon a search warrant for any data the speaker may have recorded on the night of the murder. Since a judge signed off on the warrant, Amazon became the last line of defense against turning over the data. Amazon refused to grant the request, citing the privacy concerns of its customers.

The murder suspect ultimately granted Amazon his consent to provide the data, moving the resolution of this legal showdown to another day. While Amazon was likely more concerned about future customer’s fear of losing their privacy, the takeaway is that this data may be easily obtainable if the company possessing it complies with the request.

The focus of this case was past data already recorded and stored, but something to consider is the possibility of tapping into the Amazon Echo’s microphone in real time. Law enforcement can obtain judicial authorization for a wiretap of a suspect’s electronic communications. Any internet-connected smart device with a microphone can theoretically be remotely activated without the user knowing, creating a bugging device. On a scarier note, hackers have demonstrated the ability to do this with ease. The average citizen probably has nothing to worry about, but public figures, politicians, journalists, etc. may want to weigh whether the convenience of these devices is worth the privacy risks they pose.

Another recent target of law enforcement has been data generated by Uber riders and drivers. Just as in the Amazon case, a judge approved the subpoena for these records. The likely trend will be that judges grant these requests with regularity. One can imagine these records being requested in a divorce or custody proceeding, revealing a spouse’s habitual Uber rides from the bar or to his or her paramour’s house.

Technology will continue to progress and tech companies will continue to vacuum up more and more data about our daily lives. It’s possible we may never be able to delete that data, or only with varying degrees of difficulty. When enjoying the conveniences of Silicon Valley technology, it must always be assumed a detailed trail will be left behind.


Protecting the Rights of Home Care Workers

Home care workers play a vital role in the lives of many elderly and disabled patients. While these workers are labeled by a number of different job titles, they all work to provide those in need with the fundamental services to increase their quality of life. But as home care workers serve and protect their patients, they should be mindful to protect their own rights and interests under federal and state labor laws.

Home care workers — and most workers in the United States generally — are provided certain minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA. The FLSA is a federal law that enacted comprehensive protections dealing with employment and labor issues and also standardized the 40-hour workweek.

As home care workers are increasingly required to travel to and from patients, and draft and handle reports and paperwork away from the job site, home care workers should ensure that their rights under the FLSA are being protected. Particularly, if a home care worker handles paperwork or charting that is required or necessary for the job — even away from the job site or patient’s home — they are generally entitled to be compensated by their employer. To add, travel time between job sites or patient homes generally is compensable.

An employer’s failure to provide compensation, including applicable overtime pay, to home care workers for these qualified activities is a serious violation of federal law. Ultimately, the home care worker has the right to sue their employer or to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor asking the Department to investigate the alleged noncompliance. This could result in the employer paying back wages to the home care worker and other fines.

If you believe that your employer has not fulfilled its legal obligations under the Federal Labor Standards Act or that you are not being compensated what you are owed, a qualified attorney can help you receive the money you deserve.

This article is intended for information only and should not be considered legal advice.

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