A federal judge has ordered University Medical Center to pay roughly $820,000 in sanctions and attorney fees stemming from a class-action employee wage lawsuit.
In a 32-page order handed down last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen said the hospital owed $250,000 in sanctions and $570,000 in attorney fees and expenses. The judge gave the hospital 30 days to make the payments in the suit that alleged thousands of nurses and other employees were not paid for 30-minute meal breaks.
“The court has conducted a line-by-line review of the timekeeping records and invoices, declarations and other supporting exhibits submitted in support of plaintiffs’ fee and cost application,” Leen wrote.
Danita Cohen, a hospital spokeswoman, declined to comment on the decision or say whether an appeal was planned, citing “pending litigation.”
Leen pointed out in her order that the Department of Labor investigated a two-year period, between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2012, finding that the hospital did not keep accurate records and that employees were docked time for meal breaks.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in 2012. A report cited multiple instances of hospital employees not clearly answering questions about data related to employee work hours, much of it from timekeeping systems.
The hospital, in attempting to defend its record, noted that it had turned in more than 60,000 pages of records to the plaintiffs.
In 2014, a court-appointed hearing master found that hospital executives repeatedly gave false or misleading statements during the process of providing documents and data relevant to the case.
The hearing master found that the hospital lost or deleted electronic information likely relevant to the case that was stored on mobile devices, computers and a drive, including text messages and thousands of files.
“Not only did UMC fail to correct the problems outlined in the parties’ joint status reports and addressed at length at eight case management and dispute resolution conferences the court conducted over nine months, but UMC’s latest ESI (electronically stored information) production was largely unusable,” Leen wrote. “ESI was produced to the plaintiffs that did not contain extracted text in pages of undecipherable codes complete with Japanese and Korean characters. The bulk of the production was unintelligible.”
Hospital officials did not disclose several key timekeeping systems until three months after a special federal court proceeding started. The hospital also had said it was unable to generate electronic spreadsheets from a time-keeping system, when it already had done so for a Department of Labor investigation.
The county hospital has about 3,400 employees.