Punched Out: Washington Hospital To Pay Workers $220 Million For Lost Wages In Lawsuit Verdict

Washington Hospital To Pay Workers $220 Million For Lost Wages In Lawsuit Verdict

Providence Health & Services Ordered To Pay 33,000 Hourly Employees More Than $200 Million

More than 33,000 hourly workers for Washington’s Providence Health & Services system will split $220 million after a judge ruled the healthcare provider had willingly shorted them on wages due to rounding down clock in hours and denying breaks.

The payout from the class action lawsuit was initially pitched at $98 million, but when King County Superior Court Judge Averil Rothrock determined the violations to be willful the number more than doubled, The Seattle Times reported.

Ten hour shift, no dinner break

The class action complaint filed by hourly workers including nurses, technicians, medical assistants, and other hourly staffers in 2021 accused the hospital of denying them the legally mandated - and pay deducted - second thirty minute meal break they are entitled to during a shift that is more than 10 and a half hours. While those meal breaks are automatically deducted from the workers pay, they said they were systematically denied them.

Another key allegation in the lawsuit was around clock in and clock out times. The workers said the health care system used a timekeeping system that constantly shorted workers, rounding clock in and clock out times to the nearest quarter hour in seven minute increments - that always went in favor of the hospital. 

The workers said the policy was unfair and Judge Rothrock agreed in a partial summary judgment, calling the system “not neutral” and “systematically favors Providence,” by underpaying the workers, The Seattle Times reported. In all, the workers are owed pay for more than 234,000 unpaid hours over the course of nearly five years, a lawyer for the workers, attorney Jason Rittereiser, told the newspaper. According to Fierce Healthcare, Providence has already stopped the rounding practice. 

An ‘enormous verdict’ or a ‘disappointing outcome’

Naturally, the workers and Providence were at odds about the decision. Rittereiser, on behalf of the workers, said it was “an enormous verdict.” 

“It sends a message to health care corporations, not just in Washington but across the country, that if you withhold wages from your employees, our system of justice is ultimately going to hold you accountable.”

Meanwhile, Providence said it disagrees with the workers' accusations and is “disappointed” with the verdict. 

“This case presented several new and complex wage and hour issues that are not addressed in Washington statutes or by the Washington Courts of Appeal. Along with other employers also seeking clarity on these Washington wage and hour issues, we intend to appeal this result. As this involves ongoing litigation, we cannot comment further.”

Providence under fire

The wage theft lawsuit isn’t the only legal hot water Providence has been in recently. In February, the health care system was ordered by the Washington state attorney general to refund or erase $157.7 million in medical care payments. 

The order stemmed from a lawsuit that accused the large nonprofit Catholic system of not informing tens of thousands of patients of charity care eligibility, Fierce Healthcare reported. The outlet reports similar investigations are underway in Oregon, where Providence operates more than 200 locations. 

Hospital workers fight for fairness

But Providence isn’t the only healthcare system facing legal action from employees. Workers at Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital in California filed a class action lawsuit against the hospital also alleging that nurses missed meal and rest breaks, but in this case due to understaffing. The workers say despite the missed breaks, the hospital also didn’t add on the premium pay required for the lost breaks.

Meanwhile, other nurses in Washington, Oregon to be specific, are fighting their employer in a class action lawsuit also about illegally withholding pay. The Oregon Nurses Association filed the class action lawsuit against CommonSpirit Health in February 2023, after months of inaccurate and illegally withheld pay, they say.

If you think your workplace is withholding your pay unlawfully, it’s important you review your contract and pay stubs, keep documentation, communicate with your employer, file a complaint, and, if needed, seek legal advice.



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