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More to join suit against re-training program for coal miners and others in Beckley and Clendenin

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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) There was new fallout on Wednesday for a non-profit claiming to train out-of-work miners and other for high-paying tech jobs. Mined Minds, a non-profit operating out of Beckley and Clendenin, W.Va. is being sued for breach of contract and fraud, among other allegations by Beckley attorneys Adam Taylor and Stephen New. The suit claims the program over-promised and under-delivered when it came to both job placement and pay. 

A day after three Beckley students announced they were joining the suit, another student from Mined Minds Clendenin class said Wednesday he too will be joining.

"We should have finished after 16 weeks and gotten paid for the apprenticeship. They got their office space for free. So I know it's not all going into the potato chips they're putting in the classroom," said Patrick McKowen of federal funds Minded Minds has received. 

While McKowen said students in the Clendenin program were never promised pay to start, he said Clendenin students were promised a paid apprenticeship after 16 weeks --  a charge the program's founder, Amanda Laucher denied in a follow up interview on Wednesday.

McKowen said he became concerned about his future in the program when independent research revealed critical coursework in the building blocks of coding was being missed.


"It's hard to comment on the quality because the jobs that were promised were not delivered. But we at least know from some of the teachers who taught there that they felt uncomfortable covering some of the material they were teaching," added New. 

Laucher refuted the charge Wednesday that the students were under-qualified for potential tech jobs, saying the reason almost all of the students are offered an initial apprenticeship is to gain experience before landing their first tech job. 


Still, attorneys on the case feel the promises do not match the payout in the program. 

"There are people right now who were on several bases lied to. People aren't happy about that. People are out of money because of that. And on that basis, we expect more people to sign on as word spread," said Taylor. 
 

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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) When Ty Cook and Tori Frame first heard about Mined Minds, Cook was a bank teller and Frame worked in in the retail industry. They decided to take a chance on the non-profit claiming to re-train coal miners and others for high-paying coding jobs in the tech industry.

Cook cut his hours at the bank from full-time to four-hours a week. Frame quit her job altogether. Both claimed they were promised minimum wage to participate. 

"We became suspicious on day one when we learned there was no pay. We were told to quit our jobs but come everyday to still study. Later on, we did research in the tech world and realized we don't have the skills people are asking for with these tech jobs," explained Cook.

Cook quit the program in November and Frame followed suit. "We got more suspicious when we saw articles where there were issues in Pennsylvania and the company's problems there. That's when I became very concerned about my future with Minded Minds."

Cook and Frame are have joined several others in a class-action lawsuit against Mined Minds filed Thursday by Beckley attorneys Adam Taylor and Stephen New. The suit seeks damages for fraud, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. 

"Based on the information we're getting, it was run very haphazardly," said Taylor. "The instructors were under-qualified. It was very unorganized. It was nothing to merit the devotion these students gave." 

In an interview with Minded Minds founder Amanda Laucher, she claimed the non-profit never promised pay. She said their first graduating class had four students who were hired internally, three hired in tech jobs outside the company, one who retired, and two who were let go during their apprenticeship for policy violations. 

"No student has ever received money from Mined Minds to attend our free training class and there has never been a mention of a stipend anywhere in Mined Minds documentation. The vast majority of Americans pay for their education. We are shocked and saddened that this young couple would believe that they deserve compensation in addition to free training." 

On Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, Laucher said the company graduated four more students, all of whom were offered jobs inside Mined Minds.  "We expect four more graduates over the next week. All will have offers." 

According to a Pittsburgh CBS-affiliate KDKA story in November 2017, Mined Minds was forced to quit their operations in Pennsylvania because of a cease and desist letter from the state Department of Education demanding they be licensed as a school. Instead of requesting a hearing or applying for a license, Mined Minds folded their training operations there. Laucher confirmed their decision not to seek licensure on Tuesday, saying "the associated fees are prohibitive to us obtaining that license."

According to New, Mined Minds has built their operations in West Virginia in the last two years with considerable help from federal funds.

"We have it on good authority that perhaps as high as 1.8 million in federal funding was used to start up these programs and bring jobs in the tech sector to West Virginia. But clearly they never intended to follow through on that promise."

"It's a violation of the student's trust. It's a violation of the public's trust. The public gives that money to the Appalachia Regional Commission (ARC) to develop under privileged areas like Southern West Virginia. The program was marked to place coal miners in high-tech jobs. And the money wasn't used for that purpose." 

Laucher also fired back at those claims, saying the company has only spent $60,000 of a $700,000 grant awarded through the ARC, most of which was spent on teacher pay. 

As for Cook and Frame, Laucher said "Tori and Ty were both within days of completing the initial training and were to be offered a paid apprenticeship position upon completion. The dating couple both dropped out of class in support of Tori's mother, who was asked to leave the class because of unprofessional behavior, sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints from four different team members while traveling to a tech conference in Europe. We have written complains on file as well as the record of a detailed letter asking Stephanie not to return to class." 

But when pressed on whether any of the team members filed police reports, Laucher said the matter was handled internally. 

New responded to those allegations saying one of the team members Laucher is referring to denies he was sexually harassed or assaulted. In fact, he said he too has joined the class action suit seeking damages from Mined Minds.

 

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