West Penn Seeks Sanctions For Overtime Lawsuit

West Penn Seeks Sanctions For Overtime Lawsuit

PITTSBURGH — The West Penn Allegheny Health System is seeking sanctions against the law firm that filed a collective action wage claim against them. West Penn and its parent company, Highmark Inc., believe the law firm and its client knowingly brought a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action in 2013 over meal break compensation that was a duplicate of a claim that was decertified in 2011. If the latest lawsuit is a duplicate of the one the court already rejected, the companies believe the law firm should be sanctioned for the time and money spent on the “frivolous” lawsuit.

The Lawsuits

Steven Halle and his attorney brought an FLSA lawsuit against the health care operator in October of last year. Halle was an occupational therapy assistant at a West Penn hospital. His lawsuit against West Penn, Highmark, and the Allegheny Health Network claimed the hospital failed to pay hourly employees when they worked during their meal breaks. Because the employees’ meal breaks were not free of work duties, under the FLSA the employers should have paid employees for their time. Most employers schedule their employees with the expectation that they will take a 30 minute unpaid meal break; if they do not take that break then the employee will likely have worked more than 40 hours a week. According to Halle, this is what happened at the West Penn hospital and the hospital failed to pay the resulting overtime wages. Halle admits the claim is similar to one brought a few years earlier that was decertified in 2011. He was aware of the earlier lawsuit because he had opted into it.

The earlier lawsuit, brought by Andrew Kuznyetsov, lost its appeal in September 2013 when the Third Circuit upheld the lower court’s decertification. In that case, the court found that the implementation of West Penn’s meal break policy and the class members’ job duties were not consistent enough for one trial to address all of the claims as a collective action. Decertification did not prevent individual lawsuits from being brought, but it could prevent other identical collective actions.

The Response

West Penn claims Halle’s new collective action was illogical since the class, issue, and time period were already addressed in the earlier case. In response to West Penn’s request, Halle claims the potential class is different and narrower than the earlier case with just 250 employees, or about a quarter of the earlier group. He also notes that the decertification ruling was not specifically about the currently proposed group.

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