SEATTLE (AP) — Washington's Supreme Court on Thursday narrowly upheld a $57 million verdict against the state in a case brought by workers who care for severely disabled people. But the justices declined to give the workers pre-judgment interest — throwing out an additional $39 million awarded by a lower-court judge.
The 22,000 workers claimed they were shortchanged by a 2003 rule from the Department of Social and Health Services that automatically cut their pay by 15 percent. The rule was based on the rationale that because the caregivers lived with their charges, then some of the work performed — cooking, for example — also benefited the caregiver, who shouldn't be paid for it.
The high court struck down the rule in 2007 as inconsistent with federal Medicaid requirements, and the workers sued to get the money they said they were owed. After tortuous litigation that included a detour into federal court, a Thurston County Superior Court jury sided with the workers in 2011 and awarded $57 million. The state appealed, but the high court sided with the workers 5-4 Thursday.
"It's a major victory for the home health-care workers who were shortchanged by DSHS," said John White Jr., a lawyer for the caregivers. "They had a reasonable expectation that they were going to get paid for all the hours they worked."
The amount each worker is due will be calculated later, but White said he expected them to receive roughly $3,000 apiece.
The court said the plaintiffs were not entitled to pre-judgment interest on their back pay because that can only be awarded when the damages can be calculated specifically, rather than estimated as they were in this case. Nevertheless, they are entitled to interest that has been accruing since the verdict, which amounts to $570,000 per month, White said.