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Lawsuit Claims Valley Children's Paid On-Call Employees Less Than Minimum Wage
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By Edward Smith
Published 1 month ago on
June 12, 2024

A lawsuit brought by employees against Valley Children's Hospital claims workers were paid between $6 and $8 an hour for on-call pay. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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A class-action lawsuit against Valley Children’s says the hospital has been paying far less than minimum wage for on-call employees.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Madera County Superior Court, claims it was the hospital’s policy to pay between $6 and $8 an hour for employees working on call even though California law requires minimum wage for on call.

Bonnie Ferreria has worked at Valley Children’s for more than four years, according to the lawsuit. In that time, the nonprofit hospital did not pay for all time worked, all meal and rest periods, correct overtime, or adequate on-call rates.

“(Valley Children’s Hospital), as a matter of company policy, practice, and procedure, intentionally, knowingly, and systematically failed to accurately compensate plaintiff and the other members of the California class for missed meal and rest periods … all time worked … on-call work … overtime at the correct regular rate of pay,” the lawsuit stated.

Zara Arboleda, chief communications officer with Valley Children’s, said the hospital disputed the claims.

“Valley Children’s Hospital strongly denies all allegations in the lawsuit and will defend itself against the claims in the litigation,” Arboleda said. “To date, there has been no judicial finding of merit to any of the claims nor on the appropriateness of class action treatment.”

The lawsuit was filed just days before Valley Children’s CEO Todd Suntrapak broke a long-standing silence about his compensation. It became public earlier this year that his pay was much higher than for CEOs at other children’s hospitals throughout the nation — a revelation that stirred widespread community controversy.

Other Valley Children’s executives also are compensated at rates higher than industry norms.

In an interview with ABC 30 on Tuesday, Suntrapak attributed his lucrative compensation to decisions made by the hospital’s board.

“I don’t choose what my compensation is, our board determines what the appropriate compensation for the CEO is,” Suntrapak said in the interview.

What Have California Courts Said About On-Call Pay?

The California Supreme Court ruled in the case Mendiola v. CPS Security Solutions, Inc. that being on call keeps workers — in that case security guards — from pursuing their regular day-to-day activities and thus entitles them to minimum wage.

“Refraining from other activity often is a factor of instant readiness to serve, and idleness plays a part in all employments in a stand-by capacity,” the court ruling stated.

The lawsuit claimed the $6 to $8 an hour paid by Valley Children’s for on-call work violates state law.

Suntrapak’s 2021 pay totaled $5.2 million. That same year, Suntrapak also received a $5 million forgivable loan, which he used to buy a home in Carmel.

In comparison, CEO James Downing of Memphis-based St. Jude’s — a children’s hospital renown throughout the world — made $1.5 million in 2021.

In the ABC 30 interview , Suntrapak said while he has no control over his compensation, which is decided by the hospital’s healthcare board subcommittee, he is “proud of the work I’ve done here.”

Suntrapak serves on two of the hospital’s boards, including the healthcare board.

Arboleda told GV Wire in a previous interview that Suntrapak is not present for discussions about his pay.

Valley Children’s Spent $20 Million on Executive Pay in 2021

The lawsuit goes back four years and alleges that the low rate of on-call rate and failure to pay overtime wages has been “uniform policy.”

In 2021, Valley Children’s spent $20 million on executive pay — 2.59% of all the hospital’s expenses that year, according to IRS filings. In comparison, neither Community Medical Centers nor St. Agnes Medical Center spent more than 1% on executive pay.

Six executives that year — including Suntrapak — earned more than $1 million with Chief Financial Officer Michele Waldron earning $2.8 million.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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