Supreme Court of Washington Reverses Denial of Class Certification in Wage and Hour Case

In What's New in Class Action Law?, What's New in the Courts by gravierhouseLeave a Comment

Nurses filed putative class action against hospital for failure to provide rest and meal breaks required under State Law.  The trial court denied certification, but the Washington Supreme Court reversed.

“The trial court ruled that the nurses could not satisfy the predominance requirement because of the individual issues regarding nurse type and shift length. But the court failed to explain how the differences between nurse type and shift length would be relevant to a determination of whether the hospital maintained an adequate system for ensuring that nurses could take breaks and record missed breaks. Factors such as nurse type and shift length are relevant to a damages calculation because they help the court determine how many breaks a nurse was entitled to — but those factors are not relevant to determining the hospital’s liability regarding its obligation to comply with [Washington Labor Law] or pay nurses for missed breaks. Furthermore, it is not necessary to prove each plaintiff’s damages on an individual basis; it is possible to assess damages on a class-wide basis using representative testimony….

“Lourdes’ primary argument regarding manageability is that operational differences between nursing departments makes a class action unmanageable because the duties performed by one nurse at Lourdes cannot be generalized to all other nurses. However, the United States Supreme Court has rejected a similar operational differences defense in Tyson Foods…. Guided by this decision, we hold that the differences between nurse type and shift length do not make a class action unmanageable because those issues can be resolved effectively using traditional class management tools….

“The Court of Appeals suggested that the claims under $5,000 should be litigated in small claims court. However, small claims court is not an appropriate forum for the litigation of 100 wage and hour claims because these claims implicate important public safety issues….

“Concentrating these claims into one forum and certifying this class is likely the only way that the nurses’ rights will be vindicated because individual nurses may be reluctant to sue their employers…. Individual nurses likely do not have the bargaining power to achieve systemic victories—but here, merely filing this class action appears to have caused Lourdes to uniformly change its break tracking procedures and implement a new accounting system.”

 

Chavez v. Our Lady of Lourdes, No.94592-6, 2018 WL 1866918 (Wash. April 19, 2018).

 

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