A federal court has ordered firms operated by a Pennsylvania mother and daughter to pay more than $2.4 million in overtime back wages and liquidated damages after a three-day trial confirmed the pair used illegal pay practices to avoid paying full wages to 345 workers who provided daily living assistance and home healthcare in the Pittsburgh area.

On Aug. 5, Judge Christy Criswell Weigand of the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania found Anna Zaydenberg, owner of Elder Resource Management Inc., operating as ComForCare Home Care, and her daughter, Marsha Simonds, owner of Staff Source, liable for $1,242,146 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages. Both companies are also liable for the full amount.

The ruling follows an investigation and litigation by the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. The investigation found that Zaydenberg and Simonds set up Staff Source and then violated the Fair Labor Standards Act when they redirected workers’ overtime hours to the staffing company’s pay records to avoid paying overtime rates.

As an independently owned franchise of ComForCare Home Care, a nationwide network of more than 200 in-home healthcare companies, Elder Resource Management provides personal care, companionship, respite care, cleaning and meal preparation to residents in Allegheny County.

The DOL determined that while ComForCare hired the workers and they worked only for the company’s clients, the workers received two separate checks from ComForCare and Staff Source. Investigators discovered that ComForCare staff handled payroll for both companies and manipulated the payrolls repeatedly so that each check showed less than 40 hours a week and often the company paid no overtime, even when employees worked 50, 60 or more hours some weeks.

Following the probe, the department’s Office of the Regional Solicitor filed a federal lawsuit against Zaydenberg, Simonds and their companies. The court ruled the workers were jointly employed and both companies owed them overtime.

In addition to back wages and damages, the division assessed $434,268 in civil money penalties given the willful nature of the employers’ FLSA violations.