US court says Vegas hospital must pay $820K in wages case
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada’s public hospital in Las Vegas has been ordered to pay nearly $820,000 in sanctions and attorney fees for failing to produce required emails, text messages and computer records in an ongoing federal employee wages lawsuit.
University Medical Center has until Dec. 5 to pay the penalty in the civil case alleging that thousands of nurses and other employees routinely worked through 30-minute meal periods for no pay, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen said.
Attorney Jon Tostrud declined Monday to comment about the case, which involves some 600 former and current employees. A trial date has not been set.
It was not immediately clear if the hospital would appeal. Spokeswoman Danita Cohen declined to comment on what she termed pending litigation.
Leen faulted the hospital for failing to preserve, collect and turn over documents to plaintiffs’ attorneys and a court-appointed special master in the lawsuit first filed in 2012.
The special master, Daniel Garrie, had been appointed by the court after months of bickering between the two sides.
His 78-page report in August 2014 found pervasive misconduct by hospital record-keepers who Garrie determined “lied, or at best withheld” records that should have been provided to plaintiffs’ lawyers.
“The level of intentional destruction of evidence by UMC shocks the conscience,” Garrie wrote.
Leen on Nov. 5 ordered UMC to pay almost $250,000 in sanctions and about $570,000 in attorney fees and expenses.
She also said that at trial, jurors can be told of “UMC’s discovery failures and destruction of evidence.”
The lawsuit, Small v. University Medical Center, claims that for years, nurses, respiratory therapists, clerks and other employees weren’t paid for working through 30-minute meal periods. The hospital employs more than 3,000 people and is the only public hospital in the state. It has the state’s only top-level trauma center.
The lawsuit followed a federal Department of Labor investigation that looked at two years of records and concluded the hospital failed to provide accurate records about whether employees actually took lunch breaks.
Leen said she arrived at the figures after reviewing Garrie’s report, some 1,500 pages of supporting documents and a line-by-line review of bills submitted by plaintiffs’ attorneys including Tostrud and Marc Godino of Los Angeles and William O’Mara of Reno.
The attorneys had sought more than $1.7 million in fees and expenses.
“The court found that UMC had repeatedly violated its discovery obligations and its duty to preserve,” Leen wrote, noting that some electronically stored information that was turned over included “indecipherable codes complete with Japanese and Korean characters.”
Most of the records were unintelligible, the judge said.