CNAs' overtime pay case against provider can continue, court rules

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A lawsuit claiming a New Jersey skilled nursing facility underpaid certified nursing assistants for overtime and meal breaks may continue, an appeals court ruled last week.

The complaint was filed in 2013 by Tymeco Jones, Iesha Bullock and Teairra Pizarro, CNAs at Alaris Health at Cherry Hill in Cherry Hill, NJ. The suit claimed Alaris' parent company, SCO Silver Care Operations, failed to pay them overtime pay, and that the workers “rarely, if ever” took a meal break due to understaffing.

“Despite the frequent interruptions and restrictions, the plaintiffs allege that the 30-minute meal breaks are automatically deducted from their total hours worked,” the complaint reads. “Consequently, the plaintiffs allege that they are not being paid for all the hours worked, including overtime for those weeks in which they worked more than forty hours.”

The lawsuit filers made the claims on their own behalf, as well as a class of CNAs who worked at Alaris between 2010 and 2013. 

Silver Care responded that the CNAs' collective bargaining agreement, negotiated by their union when the provider acquired the facility in 2007, required that disputes go to arbitration. The provider sought to have the case dismissed.

In an opinion published Thursday, Third Circuit Judge Julio M. Fuentes found that the CNAs' overtime and meal break claims contained “factual disputes” that do not require arbitration.

“All of these so-called disputed ‘interpretations' of the CBA, however, are factual questions — length of meal breaks, types of interruptions, how they were handled, and whether the plaintiffs ever received compensation due to these interruptions,” Fuentes wrote. “In sum, neither of the plaintiffs' [Fair Labor Standards Act] claims depend on disputed interpretations of CBA provisions such that arbitration is necessary.”

Fuentes' opinion affirms the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey's denial of Silver Care's motion to dismiss or stay the proceedings.  A legal representative for Silver Care declined to comment on the ruling to McKnight's.