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St. Charles Health hit with class-action lawsuit over meal breaks

A former employee has sued the Bend-based health system claiming work frequently interrupted meal breaks without compensation
St. Charles Health System in Bend. | COURTESY OF ST. CHARLES HEALTH SYSTEM
May 11, 2023
This article has been updated to incorporate comment from St. Charles.

A nurse who worked for the Bend-based St. Charles Health System filed a class-action lawsuit claiming employees there were routinely underpaid. The suit claims management allowed staff duties to interrupt 30-minute meal breaks that Oregon law guarantees.

The suit, filed May 9 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, seeks to represent current and former employees who worked at St. Charles since 2017 — a group estimated to number in the hundreds.

A spokesperson for St. Charles responded to the allegations in an email to The Lund Report.

 “We don’t believe there is any merit to these claims and will vigorously defend against them,”  Alandra Johnson wrote. “St. Charles believes it is essential for caregivers to receive their full 30-minute meal periods free from interruption. We work with our caregivers and leaders to develop unit-specific practices so that caregivers are able to receive uninterrupted meal periods. If their meal period is interrupted, we are confident that we are appropriately paying caregivers in accordance with the law.”

The litigation represents another challenge for an independent regional health system that was hard-hit financially during the pandemic and remains beset by labor strife.

Filed on behalf of registered nurse Anna Ford, the suit contends the health system had a “longstanding policy of failing to properly compensate employees for work during statutory meal periods.”

It claims that Ford and other employees had to carry “electronic communication devices” while on break and were expected to respond to calls. It claims the health system expected or allowed employees to check a medical charting system during breaks, leading to interruptions for which employees were “generally” not compensated.

The nature of the suit’s allegations are different from those at issue in break-related litigation involving Legacy Health. That case involves findings by the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries that the Portland-based system failed to provide breaks at the appropriate time in their shift. Legacy has fled a legal action challenging the rules, arguing that the state’s rules are unfair and unconstitutional. The Legacy case is currently on appeal.

St. Charles has not yet filed a response to the new suit, which Portland attorney Shanti Lewallen filed on Ford’s behalf.

​​You can reach Nick Budnick at [email protected] or at @NickBudnick on Twitter.