A nationwide health services contractor who recently secured an $85 million contract with the District has denied minimum wages to hundreds of non-emergency medical transportation drivers who help Medicaid participants access important health services, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court this morning alleges.

Medical Transportation Management Inc., a St. Louis-based company that operates in the District and 27 states, paid some of its local drivers as little as $3.61 an hour, the suit claims.

MTM not only denied hundreds of D.C. workers living wages, but it also regularly failed to pay them overtime for work over 40 hours per week, according to the lawsuit, jointly filed by Public Citizen Litigation Group, an arm of Public Citizen Foundation, and a law firm.

The lawyers say Leo Franklin was required to work 70 hours per week, often without a lunch break, under threat of discipline, lost wages, and even firing if he declined to transport an extra client trip. Franklin and hundreds of others were paid a flat rate of as little as $325 per week in violation of federal and D.C. law, the suit states. He and many of his colleagues never received overtime pay either.

“It is a cruel irony that drivers who help low-income Washingtonians get access to the medical care they need are themselves impoverished by MTM paying them for only a fraction of the time they work,” says attorney Joseph M. Sellers of the firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “We trust that this lawsuit will bring a measure of justice to the drivers and force MTM to pay them as the law requires.”

“Corporations have long sought to unlawfully shield themselves from paying required wages to workers through the use of subcontractors or other intermediaries,” adds Public Citizen attorney Patrick D. Llewellyn. “Both federal and local labor laws, however, have been written and enforced to prevent this form of wage theft, and our lawsuit will ensure that its workers are finally paid the wages they earned.”

MTM has transported Medicaid participants under contract with the District since 2007. It recently secured a three-year, $85 million contract with the city. Services include a pickup program to and from medical appointments, with MTM leveraging subcontractor work to pressure its employees as well.

Isaac Harris, who was fired after complaining about being forced to work 60-hour weeks in continuous shifts from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., says MTM showed blatant disregard for its employees, who serve some of the District’s neediest citizens: “Even though the days were long and tiring, I know that the work I did was vital to serving members of my community,” he says. “We as drivers all share the same compassion for the job, and all that we ask is that MTM act responsibly in paying us the wages we are owed.”