Jailhouse lawsuit could cost millions in Fresno, Tulare counties

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A jailhouse lawsuit could cost millions for taxpayers in a couple Valley counties. (KFSN)

UPDATE: Corizon Health representatives on Wednesday sent Action News evidence of a second vote by registered nurses in which they chose to accept the alternative workweek. Unlike the documents Action News uncovered related to the August 2014 vote in which they rejected working three 12-hour days, the November 2014 vote was not filed with the Department of Industrial Relations under Corizon's name, but in the name of its attorneys, Littler Mendelson. In the second vote, 70% of the jail's RNs voted to accept the alternative workweek, which is above the two-thirds threshold required under state law to exempt the workers from overtime laws.

The company also says it indemnifies Fresno County in case it gets sued.

The plaintiff's attorney says he's not sure the vote was proper since it was only about 60 days after the rejection vote. He adds that he can't find any vote allowing the alternative workweek in Tulare County, and there are other issues with payment by Corizon, so the lawsuit will move forward.


A jailhouse lawsuit could cost millions for taxpayers in a couple Valley counties.

Registered nurses say the health care contractor is breaking state laws. Corizon Health took over as health care providers at the Fresno County jail in 2014 and they do the same thing in Tulare County. A new lawsuit says they're cheating nurses out of overtime pay and they know they're doing it.
Inside the Fresno County jail, about three dozen registered nurses tend to the inmates' medical needs. Some of them say they've been getting ripped off for the last few years, but not by accused criminals wearing jail uniforms.

"What we've learned is that the registered nurses are working well beyond eight hours in a day and they're not receiving overtime as required by California law," said plaintiffs' attorney Joshua Richtel of Tuttle & McCloskey.

Richtel filed what could become a class action lawsuit against Corizon Health, the company in charge of health care in the jail. It claims RNs are forced to work 12-hour shifts, three days a week.

State law says anything over eight should be paid as overtime, with some exceptions -- like if two-thirds of the workers chose an alternative workweek. But Action News uncovered public records showing Corizon held an election in 2014, and the RNs rejected 12-hour work days.

Three years later, nurses say they still work long days and get no OT pay. Corizon's online job postings in Fresno County and Tulare County even describe jobs with 12-hour shifts.

"It's pretty blatantly disregarding the election and blatantly disregarding the will of the employees and under state law the employees have to agree to 12-hour days," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi.
Capozzi says if Corizon's been ignoring the law for years and in as many as four counties, as the lawsuit claims, it could be facing penalties of between $6 million to $8 million-- and the counties themselves could be on the hook as well.

"If there's some kind of requirement of that supervision that they should've been watching over Corizon to make sure they were following the state law, the county may be liable, not only for part of it, but for all of this," he said.

As it stands, the lawsuit does not name any county as a defendant.

The Fresno County administrative officer, Jean Rousseau, told us the county "has no comment at this time."

As for Corizon, director of external affairs Martha Harbin sent us this statement late Tuesday:

"Because a lawsuit has been filed, we unfortunately are unable to comment in detail on the litigation except to say that we strongly believe our employment policies meet the letter and spirit of California law and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against this frivolous lawsuit."
Related Topics:
jaillawsuitnursesfresno countytulare countyFresno CountyTulare County
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