ONA Accuses Hospital System of Wage Theft in Class-Action Suit

Steven Cornfield

Plaintiffs say CommonSpirit, which owns hospitals in Roseburg and Pendleton, withheld workers’ wages after an October ransomware attack.

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Members of the Oregon Nurses Association have filed a class action lawsuit against CommonSpirit Health, alleging the company illegally withheld wages for workers at its hospitals in Roseburg and Pendleton.

In October of 2022, CommonSpirit was the target of a cyberattack, which compromised 623,700 patients’ personal health information and shut down hospital IT systems, including the electronic timekeeping systems which register employees’ time spent on the job.

The lawsuit alleges that in the pay periods following the outage, the health care company significantly underpaid many nurses and other health workers, all while claiming it had been overpaying certain workers. According to the plaintiffs, CommonSpirit provided no proof of its alleged overpayments, and withheld workers’ earnings from future paychecks.

As a result, nurses took home less pay than they earned in that period, according to a press release from the Oregon Nurses Association announcing the legal action. One Mercy Medical Center nurse was paid $0 after working 67 hours in a pay period, according to the announcement. The ONA also claims CommonSpirit told multiple nurses they owe the company more than $2,000 each, but did not provide any documentation or evidence.

Kevin Mealy, communications manager for the ONA, tells Oregon Business over email that the union has been asking CommonSpirit to address the payment discrepancy since October 2022. Mealy says the health care company has repeatedly cancelled meetings and refused to negotiate solutions to its paycheck problems. He says it has issued some pay corrections, but that the corrections are often wrong — creating more problems and confusion.

“CommonSpirit recently agreed to send worksheets showing how it calculates nurses’ hours and pay. It sent worksheets for only two of the 400+ nurses affected. Both were wrong,” writes Mealy. “After five months of CommonSpirit’s failures and inaccurate pay, nurses have no choice but to pursue legal action to ensure nurses and health care workers are paid what they’re owed.”

Mealy says members of his organization have had to take second jobs because they can’t count on CommonSpirit to pay them correctly. He adds other workers have sold their cars, canceled family events, and missed mortgage payments.

“I clock in with the expectation that I’m going to get paid for my work, my experience, my education,” Mercy Medical Center nurse LaRae Ernst told Roseburg’s News-Review in December 2022. Ernst says CommonSpirit initially overpaid her in October 2022, but overcorrected by withholding thousands of dollars from her paychecks before asking her to pay back twice the amount of the original overpayment, or risk being sent to collections. She says the hospital’s actions caused her to cancel her daughter’s birthday party.

“It broke my heart to look my daughter in the eye and tell her she wasn’t going to get her party. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to be quiet any more about this,” Ernst.

The suit seeks to recover unpaid wages and damages owed to all workers at CommonSpirit facilities in Oregon.

This is the second class action lawsuit against CommonSpirit filed this year. The first was also related to the cyberattack: in January patients filed a class action suit alleging the company did not take sufficient measures to protect their data from attack.

In December, more than 370 ONA nurses and health care workers at Mercy Medical Center and St. Anthony Hospital delivered a signed petition to hospital management demanding CommonSpirit provide documentation of alleged overpayments. Workers also met with hospital management to ask for an independent audit but the company declined, according to ONA.

CommonSpirit did not respond to a request for comment. The company is the country’s third largest hospital and health care system, owning 140 hospitals and over 1,500 other health care sites in 21 states. ONA represents over 500 registered nurses and allied health care workers at CommonSpirit-owned Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg and St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from ONA.

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