The Supreme Court of Washington issued a decision today in Chavez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, in which WELA filed an Amicus Brief.  (See WELA’s Amicus Brief HERE).

The Court made a number of important rulings in holding that the rest/meal break case on behalf of nurses at Our Lady of Lourdes can proceed as a class action (reversing the Court Of Appeals).  The Court ruled that differences among hospital departments—such as nurse type, shift length and frequency of missed breaks—are insufficient to defeat class certification because the dominant and overriding common issue was whether the hospital failed to ensure nurses could take breaks and record missed breaks.  The Court also held it is unnecessary to prove each nurse’s damages on an individual basis; rather, it is possible to assess damages on a class-wide basis using representative testimony and other case management tools.

Importantly, the Court reaffirmed that Washington state law “requires Lourdes to schedule breaks at regular intervals unless the “nature of the work” allows employees to take intermittent rest periods” and to compensate nurses for all missed breaks.   It determined that the issue of whether the nurses’ duties are consistent with the concept of intermittent breaks can be handled on a class-wide basis.  The Court also issued several other rulings relating to the class action device.  The Court rejected the Court of Appeals’ suggestion that because the value of the nurses’ claims was small, the claims should be litigated in small claims court.  Among the reasons to reject that argument is that “small claims court is not an appropriate forum for the litigation of 100 wage and hour claims because these claims implicate important public safety issues.”  Rather, the class action device is superior where individual damages are small and where, as here, each nurse’s claim arises from a common nucleus of operative facts and relies on the same evidence.  The Court also held the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the Hospital’s testimony was accurate because the trial court did not explicitly resolve conflicts in the evidence, make factual findings, or conduct an evidentiary hearing.

WELA filed both an Amicus Curiae Memorandum urging the Supreme Court to adopt the nurses’ Petition for Review and an Amicus Curiae Brief on the merits. Toby Marshall argued on behalf of the WELA in the Supreme Court.  Read the Court’s decision HERE.