A group of Yakima-based nurses was awarded $2.8 million Wednesday after it was found that they were regularly required to work off the clock without pay.
During a Wednesday afternoon hearing in Yakima County Superior Court, Judge Blaine Gibson awarded the 28 nurses $1.4 million in back pay from the time they spent working off the clock at then-Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center. An additional $1.4 million in punitive damages was awarded.
The hospital has since changed ownership and is now Astria Regional Medical Center. Astria is not responsible for paying the $2.8 million.
The Washington State Nurses Association filed suit against the hospital in 2015, alleging the nurses were paid only for eight-hour shifts but were forced to work additional hours without pay. The association’s senior director of labor, Christine Watts, said the association decided to file the lawsuit after several nurses complained they were working overtime without pay — complaints Watts said the hospital ignored.
“It was all unanswered and unresolved and it continued,” she said. “Unfortunately, we were forced to file this lawsuit and put it in front of them and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Last week, Gibson ruled in favor of the association, saying the hospital forced its home care nurses to work additional hours without pay. The nurses worked in the hospital’s home health and hospice programs.
In his findings, Gibson said the nurses weren’t paid for as much as 37 percent of the total time they spent working between April 2012 and August 2017 and regularly worked anywhere from two to eight extra hours per day without pay.
Additionally, Gibson said the hospital “bullied” the nurses into filling out and signing time cards that inaccurately showed they had not worked overtime.
Gibson also found the nurses were denied uninterrupted half-hour meal breaks — which the nurses are entitled to by state law — on at least 90 percent of the days they worked long enough to require one.
After Wednesday’s hearing adjourned, several people in attendance cheered and hugged one another.
“The testimony the nurses gave was heart-wrenching,” Julia Barcott said afterward. Barcott was a nurse at the hospital for 14 years, but now serves as a cabinet chair for the state Nurses Association.
“As a nurse who lives here and takes care of patients in this community, I know how distressing it is when all you want to do is focus on your patients,” she said. “Denying nurses compensation for all the hours they worked is wrong.”