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October 21, 2014

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Lawsuit over unpaid overtime may become class action for UMC’s hourly workforce

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LAS VEGAS SUN FILE

UMC, owned by Clark County, is the region’s only public hospital.

University Medical Center, which continues to be a financial drain on Clark County taxpayers, now faces the prospect of defending itself in a class-action lawsuit over allegations of unpaid overtime and other issues that could involve thousands of employees.

Last month, a federal judge authorized a “notice of pendency of collective action” to be sent to all hourly employees who worked at UMC from July 2009 through July 2012. The notices went out Wednesday.

A year ago, three UMC respiratory therapists, Daniel Small, Carolyn Small and William Curtin, filed the lawsuit, which alleged UMC failed to provide uninterrupted meal breaks and failed to pay them for overtime earned. In December 2012, three more UMC hourly employees — registered nurse David Cohen, admissions clerk Lanette Lawrence and electrocardiogram technician Louise Collard — joined the lawsuit.

The six plaintiffs were all hourly employees and, while they had different duties, were subjected to the same practices that denied them pay for unused 30-minute lunch breaks and overtime pay accumulated from being denied those breaks, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks to win back pay plus 2 percent interest for all hourly employees who join the litigation. The period in question, because of the statute of limitations, spans from July 2009 to when the suit was filed in July 2012.

A UMC official said Wednesday the hospital currently employs 3,421 hourly workers. A judgment against UMC in the case potentially could cost the hospital millions.

The lawsuit has been conditionally certified as a class-action suit, which led to U.S. Judge Andrew Gordon’s order granting permission to notify potential plaintiffs. There has been no court finding of wrongdoing by UMC.

Employees who wish to join the suit have until Oct. 14 to do so, according to the notices. Employees also can choose to file on their own behalf any claims against UMC. Should they choose to do nothing, they will not be affected by any ultimate judgment resulting from the lawsuit.

Once the plaintiffs to the lawsuit are finalized, the case will head to discovery and depositions. At that time, it’s also likely a motion for class certification would be heard.

UMC spokeswoman Danita Cohen said because of pending legal action the hospital could not comment.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys also refused to comment to avoid potentially violating notice requirements.

The financially challenged public hospital, which is operated by Clark County, regularly operates in the red and will need at least $31 million in additional subsidies from the county this year, on top of the $100 million the county normally contributes.

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