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Unpaid Work and Interrupted Breaks: Colorado Hospital Faces Class-Action Lawsuit

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Krystal Gray sued Delta County Memorial Hospital in 2019 for allegedly not paying staff for all hours worked, including time spent working outside scheduled shifts and during unpaid meal breaks. Gray says the facility violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by withholding money from her and “similarly situated” workers at the hospital, including nurses, nursing assistants, aides, technicians, and other non-exempt workers under the law.

Gray’s lawyers recently proposed a collection action notice and U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson approved the measure on March 8th, so attorneys can start sending out letters to every employee that may be affected by the lawsuit, informing them of their rights so they can decide if they want to join Gray’s suit, which means the case may soon turn into a class action lawsuit.

Unpaid Breaks and Mealtimes

Gray worked at the facility from 2015 to 2019. In her amended complaint against Delta County Memorial, she alleges that she and other workers were forced to work during breaks and mealtimes and that the hospital discouraged them from claiming time they worked outside of their regularly scheduled shifts. The suit also alleges state class actions of unjust enrichment and breach of quasi-contract

In return, Gray is seeking compensation for her alleged unpaid work, liquidated damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and a U.S. District Court finding that Delta County Memorial Hospital’s policies violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. She also wants to bar the facility from retaliating against her.

As part of the complaint, Gray included sworn statements from three other hospital employees, including James Stunden, Valerie Stone, and Gail Houseweart, who all stated that they had been asked to work during breaks and mealtimes and show up earlier than expected for scheduled shifts. They allege that they were never completely relieved of their duties on the job and were essentially always working.

Their statements contend that supervisors regularly asked them to show up 15 minutes or more before their scheduled shift, while also encouraging them to report only seven additional minutes to their timesheets. They would also ask employees to sign out five minutes before the official end to their shift even though they would typically stay 30 minutes later to finish up with patient care and paperwork.

Delta County Memorial Hospital had denied the claims, saying it pays employees proper wages and compensates them for overtime. The facility also rejected the idea that Gray’s suit should proceed as a collective action lawsuit.

Under a 2016 policy, the hospital provides employees with a 30-minute lunch break during shifts in specified non-work areas, but the policy says they won’t get paid “provided they are released of all duties during that time.”

This policy replaced an earlier one that automatically deducts breaks and mealtimes from the employee’s timesheet regardless of whether they were completely released from all duties.

Gray contends that she and her colleagues were essentially “on-duty” during those mealtimes and should be paid accordingly.

She also states that employees were discouraged for properly recording their time on the clock due to an overtime policy that automatically penalizes employees for claiming too much overtime.

Individual or Class Action Lawsuit

The hospital did its best to oppose the court’s decision to approve the collective action notice. It claimed that the lawsuit would require a review of each individual’s time sheets and break times, so the suits should be filed individually.

But U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wasn’t buying it.

“Defendant’s codified meal period, timekeeping and overtime policies were uniform and applied to all hourly patient care employees,” the judge wrote in his order.

Jackson said Gray and her coworkers faced the same expectations on the job, which suggests a substantial allegation of unpaid work.

“Defendant appears to have achieved this outcome through a combination of formal and informal policies. But there is no question that the same practices applied across all relevant staff,” the judge added.

Gray has met the burden of proof required to start a class action lawsuit. Her attorneys will start distributing letters to other DCMHD employees to see if they would like to join the suit.

Jackson ordered the parties to come up with a notice that could be publicized to hospital workers. It simply informs employees of the class action lawsuit with details on how they can join. No one is required to join the suit, and those that wish to join must do so proactively and on their own accord.

The notice also reminds staff that the hospital cannot fire, discriminate against or retaliate against those who choose to join the lawsuit.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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