State Sen. Jim Hendren, independent-Gravette, has decided not to seek nearly $400,000 in attorneys’ fees and court costs from the drug and alcohol recovery patients who sued his company alleging they weren’t paid minimum wage.
At first, the plaintiffs received in 2020 a $1.6 million class-action judgment against Hendren Plastics Inc., a plastics plant in Gravette owned by Hendren, and recovery program DARP Inc., a nonprofit in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. DARP, which stands for Drug & Alcohol Recovery Program, offers services at a 60-bed facility in Decatur (Benton County) and requires patients to work full time for the program’s duration, at least six months.
Every DARP class member had a choice: serve prison time for drug offenses or attend a free, residential work-based drug and alcohol recovery program for six months or a year. Some participants worked about 40 hours a week or more at Hendren Plastics without getting paid. Instead, Hendren Plastics paid DARP for the work — at rates higher than minimum wage — so DARP could operate.
In August, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned the judgment, saying the plaintiffs weren’t employees under the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act.
And because Hendren wasn’t the plaintiffs’ employer and since he won the case, he could have asked the judge to order the plaintiffs to pay for attorneys’ fees and court costs.
Hendren said in a court filing that his company spent $380,444 defending its good name and vindicating its rights and interests.
On Oct. 21, Hendren Plastics filed a notice in the case saying that it was waiving its entitlement to attorney fees and costs.
“Hendren’s relationship with DARP was never about money,” said the filing by the company’s attorneys, Abtin Mehdizadegan and Missy McJunkins Duke of Cross Gunter Witherspoon & Galchus of Little Rock.
“And out of genuine care, compassion, and empathy for those individuals and their families who struggle with addiction, Hendren agreed to serve as a DARP worksite — not for any pecuniary benefit, but because it steadfastly believed then — as it does now — that drug courts and rehabilitation programs are better alternatives than prison for people with substance abuse problems,” the filing said. “An award of fees and costs in Hendren’s favor would be antithetical to its genuine, altruistic interest in supporting DARP’s mission of helping individuals like Plaintiffs sustain lasting, impactful sobriety.”
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy L. Brooks officially dismissed the case on Oct. 24.