HOUSTON (CN) – A Texas chiropractic college turned its students into virtual slaves, forcing them to clean toilets, do laundry and paperwork for 20 hours a week and recruit patients to graduate, a student claims in a federal class action.
Lead plaintiff Travis William Prothro sued the Texas Chiropractic College Foundation dba Texas Chiropractic College on Wednesday.
Founded in San Antonio in 1908, the school moved to Pasadena, a working-class Houston suburb, in 1965. It charges students about $30,000 a year in tuition, according to the complaint.
Prothro says in the lawsuit that before 2016, students had one job at the school’s on-campus clinic, the Moody Health Center: to get training from licensed chiropractors in how to treat patients. Anyone can make an appointment for chiropractic services there.
But in January 2016, Prothro says, the school got rid of the clinic’s office staff and replaced them with students, who now work the front desk, schedule appointments, process payments, audit bills for insurance claims, do janitorial work and laundry “as part of their ‘required clinical duties.’”
Students must work without pay up to 30 hours a week at the clinic, Prothro says. If they don’t, he says, the administration will say they failed to do their assignments or their clinical hours, which can make them ineligible to graduate.
He says the school also forces students to find new patients for its apparently struggling clinic.
“The students were being told that they would need to recruit 25 new, paying patients each as part of the new curriculum credit requirements to be completed by end of their clinical internship courses in order to graduate. In effect, the students were being told that they would need to recruit their own patients on which to have their training,” the complaint states.
Prothro says Texas requires prospective chiropractors see a certain number of patients before they can take the state licensing exam.
But a spokeswoman for the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners said that is incorrect.
“A chiropractic college has their own requirements for their university, but the Texas board requires that all applicants have a certain amount of undergraduate course work, but we’re not looking for patient visits,” said Sarah Matthews, a license and permit specialist for the board.
The board charges a $200 application processing fee and a $150 fee to take a “Jurisprudence Exam” that covers state laws on the practice of chiropracty.
To apply for a Texas license, graduates must complete 90 semester hours of college courses, which amounts to three years of full-time classes, at an accredited college and pass them all with a C- or better.
Prothro says in the lawsuit that rounding up 25 new patients has been difficult and expensive for some of his classmates.
“Some students got family and friends to come to the clinic, and in some cases the students actually paid for the patient visits themselves,” the complaint states.
The U.S. Department of Labor found the college had violated federal wage law by paying students less than minimum wage for their work at the clinic, after a complaint was filed with the agency in autumn 2016.
“Despite the DOL’s investigation, nothing substantially changed at the clinic,” the class action states.
The Department of Labor did not respond Thursday to a phone message seeking information about its investigation.
Prothro seeks unpaid wages and wants to represent a class of all Texas Chiropractic College students who worked in its clinic after Dec. 31, 2015.
He is represented by Josef Buenker in Houston.
The school did not respond to a telephone inquiry Thursday.