California Caregivers Sue Their Employer for Wage Violations

Plaintiff Ginger Rogers with one of her attorneys, Hina Shaw, reviewing the complaint that was filed today against Kindred Healthcare and affiliates. (Photo: Sara Feldman)

Plaintiff Ginger Rogers (right) with one of her attorneys, Hina Shaw, reviewing the complaint that was filed today against Kindred Healthcare and affiliates. (Photo: Sara Feldman)

Professional caregivers filed a class action lawsuit in California Wednesday on behalf of hundreds of workers throughout the state. They say their employer, Kindred Healthcare and its affiliates, shorted them on wages, overtime, and breaks.

Ginger Rogers, a caregiver with 25 years experience, says Kindred Healthcare hired her in 2012 to look after a patient at a skilled nursing facility in Castro Valley, outside San Francisco. She says she asked her supervisor if she could leave her patient’s bedside to take a lunch break. The supervisor told her no, adding that coffee breaks weren’t allowed either, according to the complaint filed in Alameda Superior Court today.

“That’s illegal,” says Hina Shah, co-director of the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic at Golden Gate University, who is representing Rogers and the other plaintiffs. “The law mandates two 10-minute breaks and a 30-minute meal break for every five hours of work. But more importantly, the type of work that these caregivers are doing is physically and mentally demanding, and to require someone to work 12-hour shifts without any kind of break is very detrimental to their health and is onerous.”

The lawsuit also alleges the way these workers get paid violates the law, too. Shah says Kindred Healthcare pays its caregivers a flat sum for a 12-hour shift or a 24-hour shift. For some workers, that comes out to $5.83 an hour, “well below the minimum wage,” Shah says.

She added that these pay policies also denied workers overtime pay they were entitled to. Caregivers who work in nursing homes or assisted living facilities in California are entitled to time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked more than 8 in a day, and more than 40 in a week. But when Emma Delores Hawkins asked her supervisor for overtime pay, the supervisor responded, “We don’t have overtime.”

Kindred Healthcare did not respond to requests for comment. The company is based in Kentucky and is one of the largest employers of direct care workers across the country. This is not the first labor lawsuit filed against the company –- nurses and other health workers have sued Kindred in the past for alleged wage and hour violations.

Wednesday’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of several hundred current and former caregivers who worked for Kindred Healthcare in California. They are represented by Shah’s clinic, the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, and the Oakland law firm Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson.

Shah says she and the other plaintiffs’ attorneys hope the lawsuit will set a new industry-wide standard for the way caregivers are compensated across the country.

“We really hope this will send a signal,” she says.”Quality care really cannot come at the expense of these employees’ basic rights to be paid for all hours worked.”

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