Hospital Ducks Wage Suit Over Uniform Cleaning

     (CN) – Employees cannot sue a hospital for not paying them for time spent disinfecting their uniforms, a federal judge in Washington ruled.
     Peggy Dinkel, Valarie Gadson, and Deidre Beckford sued their employer Washington Hospital Center and its parent, MedStar Health Inc., in federal court in 2011.
     The plaintiffs claim the defendants didn’t pay them for “meal break” and “uniform maintenance” work, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act.
     U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly conditionally certified the case as a collective action of two classes of non-exempt hourly employees in July 2012.
     The uniform maintenance class includes all those who worked at any of nine identified MedStar hospitals from May 26, 2008 to July 29, 2012 – some 455 members as of Jan. 9, 2013.
     The meal break class includes those who have worked in Washington Hospital Center’s emergency department or medical cardiology unit from May 26, 2008 to present.
     Ultimately, 292 employees opted in to the uniform maintenance class, and 15 opted in to the meal break class as of July 2013, though several were dismissed about a year later for failing to appear for deposition.
     The hospital recently filed a renewed motion for summary judgment, arguing that time used by hospital workers to maintain their uniforms is not compensable in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc. v. Busk.
     In that case, the high court ruled that Amazon warehouse workers do not deserve payment for time spent waiting daily in long lines to undergo mandatory metal-detector scans.
     Relying on that ruling, Kollar-Kotelly partially granted Medstar’s motion on April 16.
     “The test for a principal activity is whether a person is employed for the purpose of accomplishing a certain activity,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. “It is for this reason that the security screening in Integrity Staffing Solutions was not a principal activity even though those employees were required to participate in the screening. Because plaintiffs are not employed for the purpose of maintaining their own uniforms-regardless of whether uniform maintenance activities are required by defendants-those activities do not qualify as principal activities.”
     The judge also relied on Steiner v. Mitchell, in which the Supreme Court ruled in 1956 that the time battery-plant employees spent showering and changing clothes was compensable because “the chemicals in the plant were ‘toxic to human beings,'” the ruling states.
     “For the battery-plant employees, they themselves had to shower and change immediately at their workplace upon completing their other work,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. “By contrast, the parties do not dispute that plaintiffs conduct their uniform maintenance activities in a wide variety of ways-from the employees completing all cleaning activities themselves to sharing uniform maintenance responsibilities with family members to taking certain items to professional cleaners. Minimizing infection-even accepting plaintiffs’ experts’ testimony regarding the importance of infection control-does not reach the level of importance to plaintiffs’ principal activities as the showering and changing of the battery-plant employees.”
     The court denied the defendant’s motion with respect to the Minimum Wage Act, however, finding that this question needs further briefing, and declined to rule on the hospital’s request to exclude testimony of the plaintiffs’ witnesses at this time.
     Neither the hospital nor its parent company had responded to requests for comment at press time.

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