Twin Cities nurses sue hospital for wage violations
Eight Twin Cities Community Hospital nurses filed a lawsuit on March 30 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court against their employer, the hospital, for “rampant wage-and-hour violations, including wage theft and an across-the-board failure to provide breaks.”
The North County hospital is owned by Tenet, which is the second-largest employer in San Luis Obispo County and the third-largest publicly traded hospital chain in the country. The nurses suing are Piper Barnard, Jo BC-Harvey, Kim Emand, Wendy Harris-Butler, Lisa Mariucci, Casey Neeley, Rosalie Smith and Christina Suminski-Spreafico.
The nurses allege that the hospital failed to provide them with meal and rest breaks, which are required by state law, the hospital also failed to calculate their pay correctly and mandated that they work overtime after their 12-hour shifts were finished, according to a press release from Baltodano and Baltodano LLP,a law firm representing the nurses.
The nurses are entitled to three 10-minute breaks per 12-hour shift, but did not take the breaks even though supervisors told them to take breaks by simply walking away from their patients. If the nurses had done so and not had a “break nurse” caring for their patients, the nurses would have broken state law that mandates specific patient-to-nurse ratios at all times.
Because the hospital, according to the complaint, has been understaffing its departments, there have not been enough nurses on duty to fulfill California’s required patient-nurse ratio requirements. According to the law firm, nurses who have walked away from patients to take breaks have returned to find their patients have fallen or were otherwise been neglected while they were on their 10-minute break.
Ron Yukelson, media relations for Twin Cities Community Hospital, said the hospital “does not comment on pending or active litigation.”
“This lawsuit is about patient safety,” said Lauren Teukolsky, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “The hospital must provide adequate staffing so that nurses can take breaks without endangering the health and safety of their patients.”
This not the first case Twin Cities has faced for missed rest breaks. In July 2014, a Twin Cities nurse was awarded $32,000 by the Labor Commissioner for missed breaks. According to the release, the hospital has not changed its policies since that ruling.
The nurses also allege in the complaint that the hospital “systematically underpaid its nurses for several years through various unlawful means.” One example given is that the hospital did not calculate overtime premiums correctly, which results in the nurses not being paid the total amount they are entitled to when working overtime.
“Tenet is a sophisticated company,” local employment attorney Hernaldo J. Baltodano said. “It knows the rules for calculating wages. Yet for years, Tenet has shortchanged these hardworking nurses, stealing thousands of dollars in nurses’ wages to line its own coffers. It is time for Tenet to be held accountable and to know that the public is watching.”