In Washington, a federal judge has approved a group of travel nurses' collective overtime claims against NuWest Group Holdings LLC, a national staffing and recruiting agency that provides services for the manufacturing, nursing, scientific, and technology industries based in Washington. However, the approval does come with certain conditions in place.
NuWest Group Holdings LLC has been taken to court after accusations of the company illegally reducing their worker's pay rates. According to one case, the company went as far as to reduce one employee's pay stipend from $672 to $100 mid-assignment. According to the judge, the nurses were able to provide enough support for the allegations to begin notifying other potential plaintiffs.
To support their claims, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez said that the nurses provided evidence in the form of pay stubs, declaration testimony, and contracts that stated NuWest Group Holdings LLC paid for their housing and meal stipends based on the time worked. NuWest illegally opted not to include those stipend amounts from the "regular rates" when paying their workers overtime.
In a ruling written by Judge Martinez, with the evidence provided to support their claim, the plaintiffs were now eligible to move forward in contacting potential collective members. The lead plaintiffs, Angela Hamilton, and Matthew Hogan, whose assignments included healthcare facilities in California, Montana, and Guam, took legal actions against NuWest Group Holdings LLC in August. Angela and Matthew claimed that NuWest used a "bait-and-switch" approach, which had lured in recruits by offering high-paying compensation packages.
Yet, once those recruits moved and began their assignments, they were left with no choice but to accept lower pay. The travel nurses also claimed that their meal and housing stipends were not to be considered as expense reimbursements but reflected in the hours worked by the individual, meaning if they worked overtime, the stipends should have been included in the time-and-a-half calculations.
NuWest Changed Its Policy
In support of the evidence provided, Judge Martinez has temporarily agreed with the plaintiffs to define the collective as all former and current hourly, non-exempt NuWest employees who have worked over 40 hours in a workweek in the last three years–and who received at least one stipend that was not included in their "regular pay" rate. Without acknowledging any of the claims from the plaintiffs, the defendant, NuWest, sought to limit the conditional ruling. Claiming that they believed that the collective should not include those healthcare workers who were party to a California settlement with the company.
NuWest also argued that the collective should not include those claims that followed 2022 due to the change the company made to its stipend policy. NuWest explained that under their 2022 policy revision, the weekly stipends were no longer connected to the hours worked and were now based on er-day reimbursement rates for a given nurse's assignment area.
According to the plaintiffs, NuWest removed any statements that claimed that stipends would be “pro-rated” or paid for hours worked and added a new line to the policy, noting that the “stipends will not be paid for Requested Time Off during which the Contractor does not perform any work during the work week or is no longer including duplicate living expenses."
Judge Martinez disagreed with NuWest and denied their request to exclude participants in the California deal. According to Martinez, the California settlement applied to healthcare professionals with work assignments in any of the California facilities between March 25, 2017, and May 21, 2022. The Judge also noted that the nurses in California may still have separate claims from other assignments/work provided for the company in other states.
In the end, Judge Martinez sided with the plaintiffs, stating, “The Court finds that Plaintiffs have adequately pled and offered evidence that NuWest's 2022 change in the stipend policy did not result in a complete abandonment of stipends-as-compensation." Martinez also noted that the conditional certification only requires a "modest factual showing” that a potential plaintiff is in a similar situation to the proposed collective.
What Comes Next For the Collective?
According to the ruling, NuWest was allotted two weeks to provide the nurses’ counsel with a list of those employees who are qualified for a case. Once the list is made, the plaintiffs will be able to begin sending out informational notices via mail or email. The collective members will only have 90 days from the date the notices are sent to return a signed permission slip to join in the action. According to the latest version of the suit, it proposed an additional class action; however, the nurses have yet to move forward for class certification.
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