Washington state nurses union loses court battle against hospital over wages, breaks

A nurses union has lost a court battle seeking damages on behalf of nurses for unpaid working hours, overtime hours and missed meal periods.

The Washington Supreme Court overturned the damages award Aug. 13 for the Washington State Nurses Association that sued now-shuttered Yakima (Wash.) Regional hospital over the issue, reports Bloomberg Law.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court said the union did not have associational standing under state law to bring a claim on behalf of its members “when it must rely on representative testimony in order to establish the amount and extent of damages that its members suffered.” The court said it “does not condone Yakima Regional’s employment practices that the nurses testified to throughout trial,” but the Washington State Nurses Association lacks associational standing to sue because damages established through representative testimony weren’t certain, easily ascertainable, or within the knowledge of Yakima Regional.

The Washington State Nurses Association, a statewide labor organization, sued Yakima Regional in April 2015 on behalf of 28 home health and hospice nurses seeking damages under state law. The nurses said impossible productivity requirements were imposed that nurses regularly could not complete within an eight-hour workday. They contend they often spent hours on documentation and charting outside of the normal workday and were also rarely able to take a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break. They said they were often denied overtime to complete their charting.

During a January 2018 trial before Yakima County Superior Court Judge Blaine Gibson, nine nurses testified about the work environment, and the union presented a damages calculation chart, according to court documents. The association presented a damages calculation chart that was created by its expert. The trial court found total damages to be $1.4 million and awarded the union attorney fees and court costs. The trial court also said Yakima Regional “knowingly and willfully deprived the nurses of their pay” and ordered double damages, bringing the total damages to about $2.9 million, according to court documents.

Yakima Regional appealed, arguing that the union lacked associational standing.

Yakima Regional’s owner, Astria Health, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2019 and closed the hospital in January. Astria Health, which still has a home health and hospice program in Yakima, did not immediately return an email from Becker’s Hospital Review seeking comment.

The union also did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

 

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