Journalism in the Public Interest

Workers Win $2 Million Settlement From Assisted Living Giant

Emeritus Senior Living, the country’s largest assisted living company, has agreed to pay as much as $2.2 million to settle a suit that the company routinely underpaid workers.


(Photo courtesy of Frontline)

Emeritus Senior Living, the country’s largest assisted living company, has agreed to pay up to $2.2 million to settle claims that it routinely underpaid workers at dozens of its California facilities.

Hands-on workers at Emeritus facilities – the non-salaried aides and support staff who statewide help care for hundreds of often frail seniors – alleged in a lawsuit that the company had not only shortchanged them in their pay, but also violated state laws concerning mandated meal times and rest periods. Workers were denied overtime and not properly compensated for days during which they underwent training sessions, according to the lawsuit.

A recent investigation of Emeritus by ProPublica and PBS Frontline showed that the company’s top executives saw controlling labor costs as critical to sustaining the publicly traded company’s financial success and maintaining its appeal to investors on Wall Street. The investigation found evidence that the zeal of senior Emeritus officials to cut costs had led to understaffing at many facilities and considerable disgruntlement among remaining staff about their workload and wages.

Emeritus, both in interviews and court papers, has said its close to 500 facilities across the country are adequately staffed and that its workers are properly compensated.

Under the settlement, which needs to be approved next month by a state judge, Emeritus will compensate workers who were employed in its facilities in California from 2007 to 2013. The workers can range from the men and women who bathed and fed the elderly residents to those who administered their medications to those who cleaned the hallways and restrooms of the facilities.

Despite the settlement, Emeritus rejects the accusations made in the lawsuit.

“At Emeritus, we strive to be the employer of choice,” the company said in a statement to ProPublica. “We are competing to hire the very best staff that we can, and we are committed to our community teams. We work to be competitive in terms of total compensation within our industry, and we conduct wage analyses in markets in an effort to stay at or in line with the competition.”

Assisted living, conceived two decades ago to offer older Americans the chance to avoid nursing homes and retain greater degrees of independence and dignity, has become a multibillion-dollar industry, dominated by large chains such as Emeritus. Today, some 750,000 people are housed in assisted living facilities in the U.S., with increasing numbers of them suffering from dementia and other serious medical issues.

Experts in the assisted living industry say the low wages paid to workers by companies like Emeritus have produced a workforce that often is poorly trained and beset by poor morale. The lawsuit, initially brought by two caregivers at a single California facility, alleged that the company customarily cheated its modestly paid workforce of what it was legally owed. The lawsuit was granted class-action status, and the proposed compensation is available now to hundreds of workers at Emeritus’s more than 50 facilities in California.

“When it comes to the direct caregivers, you need to hire people who are dedicated to their work,” said Sally Clark Stearns, a professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. “To do that, you need to pay people sufficient wages to have a stable workforce.”

J. Kevin Eckert and Erin Roth, researchers from the Center for Aging Studies at the University of Maryland who have studied the assisted living industry for more than a decade, noted that the quality of care delivered by large assisted living companies is intimately tied to how well the company pays its workers.

“I am always amazed by the commitment of direct care workers,” Eckert said. “But many of the problems in assisted living stem from the fact these workers earn minimum wage.”

“Many direct care workers haven’t graduated high school, are often immigrants, and earn roughly $20,000 a year,” Eckert added. “Many are single parents that have complicated lives. And they’re often leaving one job because they can earn fifty cents more somewhere else. That’s very disruptive. This is not the way to provide care in one of the fastest growing industries in the country.”

Good they got a settlement.
Bad this is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Elaine Renoire

Aug. 22, 2013, 3:10 p.m.

Thank you Pro Publica, for great reporting.  The sunshine of the media had a large hand in the decision, I am sure. 

Thank you!


Richard Allred

Aug. 22, 2013, 3:34 p.m.

I agree with both previous comments, VJ and Elaine.  It is a shame what Emeritus has done to the employees and even worse what they have not done for there client’s.

Hope you would read the entire article, it will make you ill.

Mildred Kenely

Aug. 22, 2013, 8:20 p.m.

Some states require a high school diploma for direct care workers.  Doesn’t California require this?

Emeritus Senior Living

Aug. 22, 2013, 11:15 p.m.

As stated in the story, we deny any allegation that we underpaid staff in California or anywhere else. We comply with all applicable wage-hour laws. Once again, in talking about our company, ProPublica/Frontline has omitted crucial information – which we supplied to its reporting team. For example, it is very important for people to know that in addition to competitive wages, Emeritus employees receive a broad range of benefits, including a comprehensive healthcare plan with choices, educational benefits, recognition programs, and opportunities for advancement.  We provide high-quality employment, a high-quality workplace and high-quality care. 

Additionally, we deny ProPublica/Frontline’s implied accusation that top executives at our company are more concerned about how labor costs affect Wall Street appeal than about care. The statement that supposed zealous cost-cutting has led to understaffing and disgruntled employees is false. For 20 years, resident care has been and will remain our top priority and employee satisfaction is a major part of carrying out this mission. We will continue to care about and value those most vital to our success – our employees. Please visit for more crucial information that has never been included in ProPublica / Frontline’s reporting.

Mildred Kenely

Aug. 22, 2013, 11:33 p.m.

People vote with their feet.  If resident care were terrible at Emeritus, they wouldn’t have too many residents.  There are plenty of other places to choose from when you can pay those rates.  Same thing with employees.  If they didn’t pay comparable wages as others, they wouldn’t have employees.  I do think it’s unfair to pick on one company.  If, as the rep of the employees states, many of these employees don’t have hs diplomas, or even with one - what do you expect to earn?!  The licensed staff will make much more because they are worth more.  If Pro Publica really wants a story, they ought to take a look at the lack of care homes for people on SSI on the low income level - under $1000/mo.  Fewer and fewer places for them to go and many low-life vultures circle them to take their SSI from them while they are neglected/exploited/abused.  Many places that have no license to operate.

Elaine Renoire

Aug. 23, 2013, 8:30 a.m.

Mildred, I strongly disagree about people voting with their feet.  People are generally trusting.  They look at the building and make assumptions that because the building looks nice, then the care will above adequate.  Quite often these placements follow an event, like a stroke or accident and the family is stressed out and just trying to do what’s best, not really having time to do a full investigation.  Too often families don’t discover abuse or neglect until it’s too late or has been going on quite a long time. 

I would agree with you that Emeritus isn’t the only ALF company with this problem.  But, it is one of the biggest names and therefore it was more than appropriate for ProPublica to take a close look at Emeritus.

Gillian Nanton

Aug. 23, 2013, 10:40 a.m.

If the Emeritus representative is so right about what he/she is saying, I wonder why the company has agreed to pay out $2.2 million to settle claims for underpaying workers? This isn’t exactly chump change. Great investigative reporting by ProPublica!

Tracy Marsteller

Aug. 23, 2013, 12:14 p.m.

I was a Memory Care Director for Emeritus. My saying is you get what you pay for when dealing with staff. Emeritus continues to underpay and over work their employees. This is true from the frontline staff to the Department Heads in the building. From a been there and done that attitude the story is right on and then some.

Great start, there are 2 things the assisted living industry is deathly afraid of, one is unionization, because then the workers would have a voice, and two is federal oversite.
We need both unionization and federal oversite to correct the scam that is called assisted living.

Now let’s investigate Brookdale Senior Living.

Spread over the number of hourly workers at “dozens” of facilities, this is paltry penalty.  I imagine the CEO of Emeritus could pay $2.2 m out of his own pocket, and not even miss it.

Propitious M.

Aug. 25, 2013, 5:23 p.m.

Emeritus PR:  How much does it cost your employees for their “healthplan with choices?”  Is is proportional to their actual pay?  And are the co-pays also reasonable?  Minimum wage health benefits are notoriously worthless because the employees either can’t afford them, or what the plan pays for is very little, or both.  So, nice try at spin.

And, “recognition programs, and opportunities for advancement” are pretty ephemeral.  Try paying your employees a living wage, and staffing your facilities adequately.  Then come back and talk about benefits.

Corporations like Emeritus and Brookdale cannot pay a living wage. To pay a living wage they would have to limit CEO compensation and political contributions, it is hard enough for CEO’s to live on 3 million a year you expect them to take a cut, and without political contributions regulations would be stronger and enforced properly, politicians may actually work for the people instead of large corporations, that would not work in today’s government.
Brookdale’s CEO made over 3 million dollars in 2011, and I was told in June of 2012, they could not afford to pay a med tech at night to administer my wife’s medication, even though I was paying $500.00 per month for medication administration, I fought and won and then had to vote with my feet and move my wife, taking a chance and breaking the contract.
Since corporate America owns our politicians today I see little chance for change, in regulations or pay scale.
I must wonder why the SEIU does not mount a major assault on the assisted living industry, it is time, Brookdale’s employees were told mentioning the word union could result in termination.


Aug. 26, 2013, 8:12 p.m.

Wake up folks. 2.2 million is a pittance of a settlement. When it gets distributed amongs the hundreds of workers they have ripped off, it amounts to icecream money! This whole industry needs to be unionized to prevent future abuse of very vulnerable workers, and to get them a just wage for their labors. All American workers needs to wake up and stop being anti-union like your billionaire capitalist masters told you to be! The Uniuns in this country back in the 1930’s got a lot of workers in the auto manafacturing industry out of near slavery, and got them a fair wage, so they were able to send the next generation( their kids) to college! Unions help America, by helping the American worker. So stop listening to Fashist Fox 5 news, and all the other pro capitalist preachers who behind their big wide lying smiles,despise working people as a drain on their share profits!

Unionization is the most feared word in corporate assisted living, it is also the best hope we have to reform this industry. Regulatory reform is a long shot, the industry has politicians under control with contributions and expensive lobbying firms.
Unionization will reform assisted living from the inside out, providing for a living wage, and humain working conditions for the aides, etc. It will also allow Americans to take these jobs since with a living wage they will be able to support a family.
Assisted living uses visa programs to employ aides, in Brookdale they had a group of Africans, they would not communicate with me and the care they gave was substandard. I questioned Brookdale’s reginal nurse about this and she said the lack of communication was due to a cultural difference with the Africans. How can someone of a different culture care for a building full of dementia patients?
As it stands now we have people caring for a vulnerable portion of our population being paid the same as people serving hambergers in a fast food joint, does not seem right.

Just today I learned that 10,000 baby boomers per day will retire over the next 19 years.
Can’t get my arms around those numbers.
If we don’t improve SS, Medicare, Medicaid we’re going to have millions of people living in destitution.

Why not find more ways to help seniors stay in their homes. We are going to face a big problem in the years ahead with all the baby boomers retiring. We will not have enough Medicare and Medicaid dollars to support their long term care. My company (FirstLight HomeCare of Central Orlando) provides non-medical home care.  In-home care is only part of the solution. We need to come up with more solutions and fast.

Families need to stop being so selfish and do the job, if it means putting your life on hold so be it, I did it to care for my wife, with no help from my family, her family or friends, they were all to busy , of course they would all offer the same suggestions on how to work the system and get medicaid, even so far as saying just abandon her and let the state take care of her. Today’s generation is not interested in shouldering responsibility, when a problem arises they all shout, “let the government handle it”, this must change.
At home care is the only way to go. That being said you must be careful since the at home care segment is being taken over be large corporate franchises, looking to make a killing on seniors and their families. I know of 1 woman who went with an agency, and in 1 years time went through 9 aides, when she finally found a good one the agency tried to take her away.

Comment by Emeritus Senior Living is not surprisingly redundant.  What billion dollar company is going to admit publicly or otherwise the services they render are substandard or worse!                          Though they may comply with applicable wage-hour laws this doesn’t mean that the employees are not underpaid for the jobs they perform.  I have a relative who has worked for Emeritus for 2 years. From the day she started has spoken of nothing but what was reported by Frontline and propublica.  A week into her new job she reported problems with lack of training and education to adequately provide care, not enough staff (from med techs to care givers), a break out of scabies that was not reported to families nor treated appropriately and inadequate supervision. Though she has complained to management and corperate, her concern for her elderly residents and limited opportunity for jobs elsewhere have kept her at Emeritus.                Due to lack of education or hardships most of these employees are held hostage to the low pay and horrendous working conditions in which they find themselves.                                              In the past 2 years there have been at least 4-5 outbreaks of scabies which were not reported to family members and which many employees contracted.  My relative has been treated 3 times herself.
As for insurance and benefits, these employees do not earn enough to pay the monthly premiums.
I have worked in healthcare for 28 years and have been in many substandard facilities.  Many have beautiful facades but for Emeritus I believe that a façade is all it is.  I am fortunate to work at one of the best health care organizations in the United States.  I had worked in substandard facilities before.  When I came to this organization I was offered a living wage, full benefits for me and my family, above standard working conditions, with adequate supplies, equipment, staff etc. to provide quality care for our patients.  Maybe it’s because we are union represented and have a great labor management partnership but it was definitely eye opening.
When I saw this Frontline special all I could think was my relative works in California and the same thing is happening all across the country in Emeritus.  One thing I do know for sure is that the employees that I know work hard and care very much about their residents.  They take pride in the care they deliver. It’s the greedy, money hungry corperation that is letting our elderly and our workforce down in the most disturbing and abhorrent way.

This story needs to be shown to millions of people. Baby Boomers are a huge voting force. this will affect them one way or another, affect all of us. I want this to be shown on a popular channel because many do not watch PBS. The light needs to be shined on state agencies that do not enforce laws and regulations that already exist. People in a position of power with jurisdiction that do nothing. This would not be such a huge problem if agencies with oversight like state departments of health were enforcing laws, they can suspend a facility yet rarely do so. Also, everyone needs to beware of who you put as your power of attorney. Many residents of these facilities put power of attorneys that do not care and give full consent to these facilities. I had one resident that put his son as power of attorney and he told staff not to call him until he is dead. Power of attorneys have a responsibility, and for poa’s to do this they need to be removed. I read publications that say resident rights are in place to protect rights of these individuals when in a long term care facility. Human and civil rights do not end when one is moved into a assisted living facility yet it seems that they do. I laugh now when I read this, it is like lets be real.

I have worked in an ALF for the last year as a wellness director/RN. I recently resigned under intense pressure from my divisional vp. I was given a performance improvement plan on a Tuesday and by that Friday he was back offering to “pay me out” to leave. This comes on the heels of a new buy out by another company because the company I was working for had such a bad reputation that they are going to be changing the names of all of the houses under their old corporate name. I was reprimanded for not being a “team player” and single handily preventing our facility from improving our census therefore our success. I worked an average of 72 hours a week and was on call 24/7 365 days a year. I was very close to the “workers” and the residents because I spent more time with them than my own family. I attended every birthday celebration, funeral and memorial as well as visited daily if they were hospitalized. I stayed at bedside and provided comfort and support for both the families and the resident in their last hours of life. I fought battles for the “workers ” and was their voice when they were mistreated but were too scared to speak up for themselves out of fear of retaliation. Last Christmas when all but one staff member called out my family left our table at home and served Christmas dinner to my residents. I was part of a three member management team called a trifecta that included the residence director, wellness director and a marketing sales director. In the nine months I was employed with this company I had three different RD’s and two RSM’s. Average time of employment for RN’s in this company was 6-9 months. My partner resident director never attended a memorial and rarely attended a family night. One morning I expressed by name a resident whom I felt would pass away that day and was asked ” is that the new hospice nurse that has been coming in” on a separate occasion the RD had a thirty minute conversation in the office with a resident’s son and later asked the secretary to call and set up an appointment to talk to that resident’s son because the RD made no connection that she had already spoken with him that day. Our building had mold, drainage and security issues and the more a member of management voiced a concern to corporate the less they did to fix the problem. We understaffed every day and took care of residents that needed skilled care . ALF’s need to be regulated at a higher standard and the corporations need to fined severely in order to stop the abuse that takes place everyday. I am ashamed that I worked for such an unethical company.

clarence swinney

Sep. 18, 2013, 12:28 p.m.

1945-1980 democrats worked hard in creating a successful middle class
that had jobs that paid enough to afford a nice home,
Health Care and Education for children.
    Since 1980, it has been decades of loading them with debt in order to afford a middle class life style. Since 1980, the top 1% had a 281% after Tax income and middle 20% got 25% which was less than. Inflation. The wealthy had the money to loan and took advantage of it.
The Outsourcing of our Manufacturing Industries was biggest sham and hit on the middle class and decent paying jobs.

  The Tax Code was loaded with goodies for the rich and corporations

There is a series of Solutions to reverse course before we go over that cliff.

Progressive Flat Tax by Group. Tax Total Income not AGI with the loads of exemptions
Assure a progressive Flat Tax that will balance our budget and start paying down that horrid Republican created Debt of $17,000 Billion

Fed fund campaigns and election—6 months—3 primary 3 general—free equal tv time—No personal or outside money. Debate a week=12-=adequate to evaluate candidates

Since no need to raise campaign funds keep em on job not on road.
Ban ALL federal employees from accepting anything with a financial value.
This closes K Street Bribery.

It give middle class a chance to win an election since they cannot be bought.

Burn the tax book—It gets enough revenue $1300B that immediately balances our budget.
Start anew—Exemptions must serve a common good not fat wallets

clarence swinney

Sep. 18, 2013, 12:32 p.m.

Cut Food Stamps?
Try Means Testing Medicare—Social Security-Exemptions
I have close frends who get Social Security and Medicare.
They are multi-millionaires.
Their logic! We paid for it. Yet, they will not go with me to local Armory where Ag Dept is giving out free cheese. We paid for it!!!!

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Life and Death in Assisted Living

Life and Death in Assisted Living

Is the loosely regulated, multi-billion dollar assisted living industry putting seniors at risk?

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