$3.5 Million Settlement In Class Action Law Suit About Nurses' Meal Periods

Thursday, August 8, 2013

St. Mary's Hospital in Wisconsin reached a $3.5 million settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by the nurses who alleged that the hospital automatically deducted their meal breaks from the wages.  The 1,400 nurses who brought the complaint stated that the hospital failed to pay them for these meal breaks even though they had to remain in the hospital and carry pagers while on break and were often interrupted by doctors and staff.

In Fosbinder-Bittorf v. SSM Health Care of Wisconsin, Inc., the hospital moved for summary judgment after the action was filed.  Attorneys for the hospital argued that the hospital gave the nurses an option to cancel the automatic deduction.  St. Mary’s deducted a thirty-minute meal period automatically from any shift in which a nurse worked over five and a half hours. In the event that the nurse did not receive an uninterrupted meal break, the nurse could cancel the deduction by pressing a “cancel lunch” button on the time clock or by completing a written “maintenance” sheet.  The court denied the motion and found factual questions existed as to whether the plaintiff was required to remain at the hospital during her meal period and whether she had been relieved of all duty during her meal period. Under Wisconsin law, the employee must be completely relieved from duty.  The Court found that for summary judgment purposes, the meal and rest breaks policy of the hospital was ambiguous about whether employees could leave the premises during their meal period.

After the summary judgment was denied, the parties were involved in a voluntary mediation and agreed to settle for a total of $3.5 million dollars.    

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