California system accused of paying on-call employees below minimum wage

Madera, Calif.-based Valley Children's Healthcare is facing a lawsuit alleging it paid on-call employees less than minimum wage, The San Joaquin Valley Sun reported.

The lawsuit claims the hospital paid between $6 to $8 per hour for employees who were on call but not called back to physically work at Valley Children's, according to the Sun. It alleges that this practice violates California law.

"When the employee was called back to work at the hospital, and returned to the hospital, a different rate would apply, but the employee would, at times, forfeit the less-than-minimum wage on-call pay," the lawsuit reads, according to the Sun. As a result, employees received less than minimum wage for mandatory on-call shifts, the lawsuit claims, according to the newspaper.

Bonnie Ferreria, a nurse who said she has worked at the hospital as a non-exempt employee for more than four years, filed the lawsuit on behalf of herself and other workers. For their work,  Valley Children's failed to accurately pay Ms. Ferreria and other employees for missed meal and break periods, all time worked, on-call work and at the accurate regular rate of pay, according to the Sun.

The lawsuit seeks minimum and overtime wages and alleges the aggregate claim owed to affected workers is nearly $5 million, the newspaper reported.

Zara Arboleda, a spokesperson for the hospital, denied the allegations.

"Valley Children's Hospital strongly denies all allegations in the lawsuit and will defend itself against the claims in the litigation," Ms. Arboleda said in a statement shared with Becker's. "To date, there has been no judicial finding of merit to any of the claims nor on the appropriateness of class-action treatment. Because the litigation is ongoing, the hospital cannot comment further at this time."

The lawsuit was filed days before Valley Children's Healthcare President and CEO Todd Suntrapak responded to criticism of compensation packages for himself and other top executives. Scrutiny around the compensation initially surfaced in March, and Fresno City Council members Miguel Arias and Garry Bredefeld have asked California Attorney General Rob Bonta to look into Valley Children's spending of state Medicaid funds, particularly as it relates to executive compensation.

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