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Arkansas Supreme Court reverses ruling for hospital workers

by Stephen Steed | February 22, 2020 at 1:53 a.m.

A wage dispute between BHC Pinnacle Pointe Hospital and some of its employees belongs in arbitration, not in court, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday in reversing a circuit judge's decision that favored the workers.

The workers in October 2018 sued the Little Rock behavioral health hospital for violations of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act. They cited a Pinnacle Pointe policy of requiring its registered nurses and mental health technicians "to clock out for a 30-minute unpaid break each shift -- regardless of whether those employees were able to take a 30-minute break due to patient care and low staffing levels."

The workers, who were paid hourly, stayed on duty and were not paid for that work, according to the lawsuit filed by John Holleman and Timothy Steadman of the Holleman & Associates firm in Little Rock. Employees who didn't clock out for the 30-minute breaks were disciplined, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit sought class-action certification for a potential class of more than 40 workers, but didn't specify an amount in lost wages.

Daniel Herrington and Allison Pearson, of the Friday, Eldredge & Clark law firm, argued for Pinnacle Pointe that conflict-resolution agreements signed by employees require third-party arbitration, not a court of law, for such matters. Signing such agreements wasn't mandatory, they said.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox in January 2019 dismissed Pinnacle Pointe's argument, ruling that the workers were entitled to their day in court. The case in Fox's court never got to the point of legal arguments on the merits of the workers' claims of the required 30-minute breaks and unpaid wages.

Pinnacle Pointe appealed.

In its divided ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court reversed Fox and remanded the case, ordering arbitration.

The "Alternative Resolution for Conflict" agreements "apply, without limitation, to disputes regarding the employment relationship, compensation, breaks and rest periods," the court said in a majority opinion written by Associate Justice Karen R. Baker.

Associate Justice Josephine Linker Hart dissented, noting that employees who didn't "opt out" of signing the conflict-resolution agreements within a certain time limit "were bound to whatever was contained in those documents."

"In effect, the ARC agreements simply direct workers to resolve any potential disputes in a less impartial forum where the playing field could be slanted toward the party with greater resources -- and without the protections of a court of law," Hart wrote. "The ARC agreements would curtail or altogether remove the workers' constitutional rights to access the courts, due process, and free speech, in exchange for higher costs and a diminished ability to prove his or her case."

Business on 02/22/2020

Print Headline: Ruling for hospital workers reversed

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