JOHNSTOWN - A former employee is suing Altoona Regional Health System on behalf of an estimated 500 workers who have not been paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week.
The lawsuit was initially filed in the Blair County Court of Common Pleas but this week was transferred to the U.S. District Court in Johnstown.
A case can be moved to the U.S. District Court if a question of federal law has been raised.
Carol Sweeney of Hollidaysburg, who worked as a medical secretary and patient access representative for nearly 19 years at the Altoona Hospital Campus, contends that wage policies of the health system violate Pennsylvania's Minimum Wage Act and the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson.
"We do not comment on pending or active litigation," Altoona Regional spokesman David Cuzzolina said.
The attorney for Altoona Regional, John J. Myers of Pittsburgh, said he wasn't authorized by the hospital to comment on the case.
Attorney John Linkosky of Carnegie, one of the attorneys representing Sweeney, did not return calls.
Myers filed the notice of removal from Blair County on Tuesday, stating the lawsuit alleges action under federal law.
He said in his notice that state law claims may be exempted by the federal Labor Management Relations Act "in that resolution of those claims will require interpretation of, and those claims are closely intertwined with, a collective bargaining agreement."
On Thursday, the case was designated for review under the District Court's Alternative Dispute Resolution program.
This means an attempt will be made to mediate a resolution before the case is placed on track for trial.
According to legal papers, Sweeney was terminated from the hospital on June 27, 2011.
Her lawsuit challenges the hospital's "8/80" policy, under which employees are not paid overtime if they do not work more than 80 hours over a two-week period.
An example of the 8/80 policy was outlined in the lawsuit. If, for instance, an employee works 50 hours in one week and 30 hours the next week, the lawsuit contends Altoona Regional does not pay time-and-a-half for the first week when the employee labored more than 40 hours.
Another issue involves designated lunch time in which workers are on the job for eight 1/2 hours.
The hospital does not pay overtime for a half-hour lunch break even though many employees work through their designated lunch time, the lawsuit stated.
The litigation is being pursued on behalf of present and former employees going back to 2009.
The employees who are to be covered in the lawsuit are considered "non-exempt, hourly workers."
It is meant to cover all workers in this classification throughout the entire health system, which would include Altoona Hospital Campus, the Education and Finance Center, the Surgery Center, Station Medical Center, Northern Cambria Medical Center, Patton Family Medical Center and Allegheny Surgical Associates.
It is estimated that the lawsuit will cover 500 individuals including medical secretaries, patient access representatives, receptionists, nurses, technicians, housekeepers, kitchen staff, finance and billing workers, registration workers, medical records and maintenance personnel.
Myers has been involved in a similar case in the past, when he represented the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center when an employee in 2009 challenged UPMC for the failure to pay overtime for lunch breaks. It was on behalf of 85,000 workers.
Rulings involved in that case are on appeal to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.