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Judge rules nurses can join lawsuit against CHI Health over OT for on-call pay

Judge rules nurses can join lawsuit against CHI Health over OT for on-call pay

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A federal judge has granted a motion that would potentially allow more nurses who worked at CHI Health hospitals in Nebraska and Iowa to join a lawsuit over on-call pay.

The move came in a 2019 case where seven nurses at CHI St. Elizabeth in Lincoln sued the hospital and its owner, CHI Health and now CommonSpirit Health, alleging they weren't properly paid time and a half for overtime when they went over 40 hours counting on-call hours.

The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Kathleen Neary, argued their evidence established that other hourly nurses at CHI hospitals also hadn't been compensated properly and should be allowed to join the suit.

CommonSpirit Health, in turn, argued against the conditional collective-action certification, which is similar to class-action certification, saying the move was inappropriate.

Their attorney pointed to a written policy that provides payment for on-call remote work as proof there was no uniform, unlawful policy to be addressed.

But in his recent order, U.S. District Judge Brian Buescher said the plaintiffs "presented evidence to substantiate their claims of being undercompensated for remote on-call work resulting in overtime despite the existence of the policy requiring them to be paid."

The hospital seemed to concede that the seven had been improperly paid due to the actions of a "rogue" director in interventional radiology, which cast doubt that policy was followed elsewhere, he wrote.

As a result, the judge allowed the motion to expand the certification to other nurses at CHI medical facilities who believe they were improperly compensated for overtime on on-call hours.

Nurses have until March 13 to join if they were assigned on-call work at one or more of 15 CHI facilities from Dec. 17, 2017, through the present.

The facilities include CHI St. Elizabeth and CHI Health — Nebraska Heart in Lincoln; CHI Health Laboratory, Creighton University Medical Center, Immanuel Hospital-Omaha and Lakeside Hospital, all in Omaha; Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney; Midlands Hospital in Papillion; CHI Health-Plainview; CHI Health in Schuyler; St. Francis Hospital in Grand Island; and CHI Health-Saint Mary's in Otoe County; and CHI Health-Mercy in Corning, Iowa; Mercy Hospital in Council Bluffs, Iowa; and CHI Health Missouri Valley in Harrison County, Iowa.

Neary said the seven, and potentially others, have lost wages, contributions to retirement plans and interest on both as a result.

She is asking the judge to declare that CHI's conduct violated the nurses' legal rights and direct the company to pay them back wages, retirement contributions and interest due, and award them liquidated damages.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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