An injured worker featured in an NPR/ProPublica investigation of the opt-out alternative to workers' compensation has settled with the company that denied her medical care and wage-replacement payments after an incident at work.
Rachel Jenkins, 33, was injured last March while protecting a mentally disabled man who was attacked by another client at an Oklahoma City shelter operated by ResCare, which claims to be the nation's largest provider of services to people with disabilities.
ResCare had opted out of state-regulated workers' compensation in Oklahoma by developing its own workplace injury plan. The company initially denied Jenkins any benefits for her painful and persistent shoulder injury because she had missed a 24-hour reporting deadline by just three hours. Jenkins said she reported late because she had been heavily medicated after emergency treatment.
The 24-hour reporting rule is one of the most contentious elements of opt-out plans in Oklahoma and Texas. Critics say the rule gives employers the ability to deny benefits for legitimate workplace injuries that they would otherwise have to provide if they hadn't opted out of workers' comp.
Jenkins and other workers in Oklahoma sued their employers and state regulators over that provision and others in the state's opt-out law.
ResCare and Jenkins agreed not to disclose the details of this week's settlement, but Bob Burke, Jenkins' attorney, says the monetary settlement gives Jenkins enough money to get her shoulder treated, recover lost wages and provide the same type of disability payments Jenkins would have received if ResCare had remained in the workers' comp system.
"ResCare was reasonable in providing monetary compensation for medical care and for permanent disability," Burke says.
He adds that Jenkins is planning to get treatment and find another job.
Jenkins says the settlement negotiations "went great." But she noted that she expects to be "dealing with my shoulder the rest of my life."
A spokeswoman for ResCare says the company does not comment on pending or past litigation.
Burke says the settlement resolves the Jenkins lawsuit but other clients still have ongoing cases.
ResCare initially denied benefits for the injury despite the fact that her supervisor witnessed the incident. Jenkins endured 16 days of pain while unable to afford treatment and worried about getting back to work.
"I went through hell, a whole lot of pain where I was in tears," Jenkins told NPR and ProPublica last year. "I was just thinking ... 'How am I going to take care of my kids?' "
ResCare reversed the denial after pressure from Jenkins' colleagues.
The settlement follows a recent ruling by the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission that declared the state's opt-out system unconstitutional. The issue is now headed to the state Supreme Court.
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez told NPR last month that the agency is investigating opt-out plans. Agency investigators are trying to determine whether the plans violate workplace benefits provisions required by federal law. Perez said the opt-out alternative to workers' comp creates "a pathway to poverty" for injured workers.
ProPublica's Michael Grabell contributed to this report.
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