NEWBURYPORT – Three Anna Jaques Hospital nurses have sued the Newburyport hospital for its alleged failure to pay them for working through 30-minute meal breaks over a period of three years, according to court documents. 

The suit was filed in Essex Superior Court in Salem on Oct. 17 by an attorney representing Jeannie Dennis, Renee Pelechowicz and Jill Mosher, all from the hospital’s psychiatric unit. 

According to the complaint, the nurses claim the hospital violated the Massachusetts Wage Act by failing to pay 30 minutes of compensation for each day of work within a three-year period prior to the filing. 

“Plaintiffs were not relieved of their work-related duties and worked through their 30-minute meal break,” the complaint reads. 

The three nurses have roughly 30 years of experience among them at the psychiatric unit with Pelechowicz being there the longest, since 2005. Dennis started in 2009 and Mosher has been there since 2012. 

Whether the suit will be argued in Essex Superior Court is up in the air after hospital attorneys filed a motion to transfer the case to federal court. The Nov. 27, notice of removal was filed in U.S. District Court in Boston. 

According to the motion, Anna Jaques attorneys argued that the nurse complaint falls under the federal Labor Management Relations Act. Because of that act, because their claims are intertwined with the collective bargaining agreement that governs their employment, and because of what they call diversity jurisdiction, the suit should be moved. 

As to why Anna Jaques Hospital attorneys would rather contest the lawsuit in federal court over state court remains unclear. When asked for a statement on the lawsuit, Anna Jaques Hospital spokesperson Danielle Perry declined, adding, “Because it is pending litigation we cannot offer comment about it.”

The lawsuit is vague about how much money the nurses are seeking. Instead, the suit says the nurses are seeking the full amount of unpaid wages, attorneys fees and expenses, damages and any such other areas of relief deemed fit by the court. 

Calls to the nurses’ attorney, Adam Shafran of Rudolph Friedman LLC in Boston, were not returned on Monday. 

However, according to the motion filed by Anna Jaques attorneys, they believe that amount could be more than $75,000. 

According to the complaint, it was another overnight shift nurse who noticed that his colleagues were not being paid for working through their meal breaks. 

“Upon taking a legitimate 30-minute break (the fourth nurse) realized that the overnight shift nurses should have been receiving 30 minutes of pay for all ‘meal breaks’ that they worked through and had not been relieved of their work-related duties. As a result (the fourth nurse) went and spoke with the hospital’s Human Resources about the issue,” the complaint reads. 

Upon speaking to the Human Resources Department, the hospital’s director of psychiatric services said that going forward all overnight nurses would be allowed to take 30-minute breaks and they would be paid for 8.5 hours of work if they didn’t take a meal break. The director also told the nurses that hospital attorneys were calculating back pay owed. 

“As of the date of the filing of this complaint, the plaintiffs have not been paid for any so-called ‘30-minute meal breaks’ that they worked through and were not relieved of their work-related duties within the three years preceding the filing of this complaint through approximately mid-to-late September 2018,” the complaint reads. 

Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter@drogers41008.

To read a PDF of the complaint go to Newburyportnews.com

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