Nurse Files Class Action Against Legacy Over Breaks, Overtime
A former registered nurse for Legacy Health has filed a class action lawsuit against the Portland hospital network, claiming that it systematically denied meal breaks to non-exempt nursing staff and failed to pay overtime.
Julianne Hunter, who worked for Legacy Health for nine years, including the last three at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, filed the suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court on behalf of herself and other nurses, nurse aides and nurse assistants. The complaint says Legacy does not allow nursing staff to take a 30-minute break during their shift as required by state and federal law but rather expects them to try to grab a bite to eat when they can while attending to patients and other duties.
Yet, the suit says, Legacy still deducted 30 minutes a day from nursing staff pay for a meal break. The complaint also accuses the hospital chain of systematically failing to pay for work performed before clocking in and after clocking out.
“This case implicates the longstanding policy of Legacy Health, which fails to properly compensate non-exempt employees for work during meal periods and for work performed while ‘off-the-clock,’” the suit says.
Legacy Health did not respond to requests for comment.
This is not the first time that Legacy staff have complained about being denied breaks. A year ago, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries fined Legacy Emanuel Medical Center a record $277,000 for failing to ensure that staff got breaks. That fine followed an investigation of a dozen complaints, many from surgical technicians, who said they were not allowed to go to the restroom for four hours or more. The bureau found that the North Portland hospital had more than 4,400 meal and rest period violations in 2015 and 2016.
Legacy paid the fine, saying it did not want to start shelling out money in legal fees.
Then in September, the bureau announced it was fining Legacy another record sum -- more than $5 million -- for 5,000-plus meal and rest period violations at Legacy Meridian Park Hospital, Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center and Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center.
This time Legacy appealed, asking for a hearing. That meeting is scheduled for April, said Christine Lewis, spokeswoman for the bureau.
This latest lawsuit says Hunter worked as a non-exempt nurse for Legacy Emanuel Medical Center between March 2009 through April 2016, earning $48.18 an hour during her last year of employment. Her responsibilities including caring for patients, administering medicine, monitoring test results, responding to emergencies and interacting with other staff and visitors. The suit says she worked throughout her shifts and was “interrupted or denied meal and rest breaks on a regular basis.” The suit says she worked off-the-clock as well, doing things like cleaning, preparing equipment, charting, interacting with patients and assisting other staff but was not paid for that time.
“In practice, nursing staff involved in direct patient care are not permitted to take a 30-minute uninterrupted and bona fide meal or rest breaks due to the demands of their job during the majority of their shifts,” the complaint says. “In the rare instances where they attempt a meal or rest break, they remain on duty in that they are required to respond to calls from their patients, doctors, patients’ families, other nursing staff and hospital staff, attend to the normal demands of the job and otherwise respond to emergencies.”
Hunter worked long days, the suit says, 12 or 13-hour shifts and up to 52 hours a week.
Oregon law requires employers to give staff a 30-minute meal break free of interruptions after six hours or work and 10-minute breaks for each four hours of work. Federal law also requires employers to pay hourly wage employees time and a half their regular pay for all hours that exceed a 40 in a week.
The complaint says that when non-exempt employees like Hunter worked more than 40 hours a week that Legacy did not pay overtime because it did not include time spent working off-the-clock in its pay calculations and automatically deducted break time that wasn’t taken.
The complaint says this policy was not the result of an accounting error but rather part of a “willful” policy.
The complaint says that all non-exempt staff who worked more than 40 hours in at least one week in the past three years at Legacy Health should be included in the suit. It estimates that there are at least 100 people in this class.
The suit seeks orders banning Legacy from retaliation against the plaintiffs, stating that Legacy willfully violated federal law and violated Oregon law. It also seeks all unpaid wages due to plaintiffs under the law, with 9 percent interest; an equal amount in damages; attorneys fees and fines of $200 for each violation.
You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected].