St. Mary's forks over $3.5M to pay for lack of nurse meal breaks

St. Mary's Hospital in Madison, Wis., will pay $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit claiming the hospital failed to pay 1,400 nurses for meal breaks when they had to stay at the hospital on call, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The nurses, who worked at the 440-bed hospital over a four-year period, will receive $2.3 million and the remainder of the settlement will go to attorney fees, the Journal reported. Each nurse will receive approximately $1,625.

The lawsuit was brought to light in 2011 when Roberta Fosbinder-Bittorf, who had worked at the hospital since 2006, claimed she wasn't able to have a real 30-minute meal break during her 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. The Journal reports she was told that during her break she had to stay in range of the hospital's public announcement system to respond to patient emergencies.

"It's extremely important that nurses have a choice to re-energize physically and mentally in order to give the best possible patient care," she told the Journal.

In a statement, St. Mary's spokesman Steve Van Dinter told the newspaper the hospital "believes it has complied with the Fair Labor Standards Act and has paid nurses properly during all times." However, he said the hospital decided to settle the case to avoid mounting litigation costs.

To learn more:
- read the Wisconsin State Journal article