Wash. State Nurses Ass’n v. Sacred Heart Med. Ctr., No. 86563-9 (view WELA’s brief)
In this case, the Plaintiffs were nurses who were denied rest breaks. The defendant argued that the rest breaks should not be added to the 40 hours already worked, and that the nurses should be compensated only at straight time for the missed rest breaks. ?The nurses argued that they should be paid overtime at time and a half the hourly rate. WELA argued that compensation at straight time would create an incentive to deny rest breaks. WELA also presented substantial sociological evidence demonstrating the importance of rest breaks to the health and safety of workers and also that rest breaks enhanced workers’ overall productivity. The WELA brief was authored by Steve Festor and Toby Marshall.
The Court ruled 9-0 in favor of the nurses. ?Its analysis embraced many of WELA’s arguments, construing both the missed rest break and the time spent working instead of resting as “hours worked,” which combined had the effect of extending the number of hours worked to more than 40.? It noted that the employer received extra work from the employees, beyond what it would obtain in a normal 40-hour workweek in which rest breaks were actually provided, and should not be rewarded by having to pay only straight time for that extra work.? And it noted that rest periods are mandatory and promote employee health and productivity as well as patient safety.
The Court ruled against the nurses on double damages, finding that where the employer reasonably believed it was following the terms of a collective bargaining agreement as interpreted by a labor arbitrator, the proper amount of compensation was fairly debatable and failure to pay overtime was not “willful” under the double-damages statute.