Lawsuit Filed Against Nonprofit Mined Minds in W.Va.

Mined Mines allegedly didn’t get students coding jobs

Photo Provided Amanda Laucher and her husband, Jonathan Graham, who started the originally Waynesburg-based Mined Mines, are shown in this July 2016 file photo teaching a class about computer training for former coal miners looking to change careers.

A nonprofit that started in Waynesburg in 2015 is facing a class-action lawsuit in West Virginia after students alleged Mined Minds didn’t follow through on promises to get them coding jobs.

Mined Minds was started by married couple Jonathan Graham and Amanda Laucher, technology consultants in Chicago. They started the nonprofit in Pennsylvania and West Virginia with the hope of teaching the unemployed and former coal industry employees how to do computer coding.

According to national news reports this week, including an article Sunday in the New York Times, about 60 of the former West Virginia students involved with the nonprofit have filed a class-action lawsuit against Mined Minds.

The Times article quoted several students who took a free Mined Minds class in Beckley, W.Va., who claimed they were told they would be paid for the class. The students also claimed they were promised apprenticeships within the company upon graduation, and eventually tech jobs.

The students involved in the lawsuit told the Times that while they had invested time and money, putting their lives on hold with the hopes of finding better career paths, Mined Minds never came through on those promises.

Laucher, a native of Nemacolin, Pa., said in an email Monday that she is “unable to comment” due to the ongoing lawsuit.

“What we will say is that there have been no new developments in this lawsuit which is more than 18 months old,” she wrote. “Depositions have been taken and we believe their filing has no merit. Class remains ongoing.

“A note about the NYT story itself,” she continued. “Because we are unable to comment to the press, the publication states many inaccuracies.”

Laucher included in her email a three-page student contract that every student must sign when entering the program. The contract states that the full-time training lasts up to 32 weeks and demands students commit 40 hours a week to studying. The contract also states that students won’t receive payments from Mined Minds and that the program isn’t “a replacement for college or university education.”

“There is no job or further training opportunity guaranteed upon completion of the training,” the contract states.

Mined Minds had received in 2017 as part of a contract with the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board and the Washington-Greene County Job Training Agency. The $702,400 in grant money Mined Minds received came from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Amy Gatts, WGCJTA president, said Mined Minds wasn’t in Pennsylvania long before they moved to West Virginia.

“They trained a couple people here then moved into West Virginia,” she said.

Gatts said Mined Minds was having licensing issues with the state, which ordered them to cease operations until obtaining a license to run a school.

“But it was free, they weren’t charging anybody,” Gatts said. “They’re still training people and they’re getting jobs.”

Both Gatts and Jeff Nobili, project manager for the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board, defended Mined Minds, saying the national news articles had “discrepancies,” and that they are only aware of two plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit.

Former students and employees quoted in the Times article alleged that the couple’s “company gatherings” involved heavy drinking in party-like atmospheres, and that apprentices and employees were fired for unjust reasons.

But Nobili said he never saw that type of unprofessionalism when working with Mined Minds.

“Whenever we hear about something like this, we take it very seriously and we talk to our contractors,” he said. “I don’t know where all those stories come from. That’s not something that I’ve experienced dealing with Mined Minds.”

He also said that students his organization monitored while going through the program received the training they were promised.

“If they were let go it was for business reasons,” he said. “We don’t tell our contractors how to run their business.”

Nobili said the development board’s contract with Mined Minds ends this month. He said the grant had been extended, but he’s not sure whether Mined Minds will be included in that extension.

“That’s not stemming from this article necessarily, but from whether they’re able to operate under the publicity they’re getting,” he said.

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