Summary Judgment Denied in Unpaid But Working Lunch Break Case

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake shot down a hospital’s effort to dismiss a nurse’s class suit last week in a Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law case.

The nurse’s claim is that Maryland General Hospital automatically deducts a scheduled meal break from employees’ pay while also requiring employees to work during that unpaid break. So the hospital’s policy is, allegedly, an automatic 30-minute deduction in their daily time records for a scheduled meal break, whether or not they can receive the break. Oh, the inhumanity!

I’m not a huge fan of these types of cases. I think these laws are needed to manage some oppressive working conditions. Think West Virginia coal mine worker. But these are health care workers who are in great demand. Sure, the hospital was screwing over the employee on this lousy lunch break deal. But I bet they did a thousand other things for her that they were not required to do. Now she is cherry-picking the one thing she didn’t like. Ultimately, it is the employer’s job to make the employee happy enough that they want to stay. If she does not like it there, she should leave – which is what she did.

My other problem with these cases is that they seem so lawyer-driven. No lawyer would take just this woman’s case. The damages – her occasional lost half-hour – are not significant enough to attract anyone’s interest. The plaintiff will get little out of this even on her best day (even with a lead plaintiff “bonus”). But the hospital has a lot of employees and lawyers see the value in the numbers. They thought a class action would include all people employed at Maryland General Hospital (“MGH”) within the three years prior to filing this action whose pay was subject to an automatic 30-minute meal period deduction.

Anyway, Judge Blake denied the defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment. The University of Maryland Medical Systems did what these hospitals do: try to escape liability on some technicality that has nothing to do with the merits of the case: whether there was joint-employer status between the University of Maryland Medical Systems and Maryland General Hospital.

You can read the opinion in Quickley v. University of Maryland Medical System here.