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Wash. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Home Care Aides in Shared-Living Program

April 9, 2014

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on April 3 that 22,000 home care workers will be awarded a total of $57 million in back wages for providing services and supports for which they were not paid.

The workers provided home care to disabled consumers with whom they lived through a Medicaid-funded, consumer-directed “shared living” program.

The home care aides’ hours were reduced by 15 percent from 2003-2007, as a result of a new rule issued by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to cut costs, The News Tribune reports.

The aides continued to work the hours without pay.

In 2007, the state Supreme Court invalidated the DSHS rule because “reducing hours of paid care was inconsistent with Medicaid regulations,” The News Tribune says. The workers then sued the state for back wages.

The state Superior Court had ruled in favor of the home care aides in 2011, but DSHS filed an appeal.

“It’s a major victory for the home health-care workers who were shortchanged by DSHS,” said John White Jr., an attorney for the home care aides. “They had a reasonable expectation that they were going to get paid for all the hours they worked.”

In addition to the back pay, the aides will receive interest for the last two years, totaling $80 million. Each aide will be awarded an average of $3,470, depending on how much they worked without pay.

The home care aides employed through the consumer-directed program have a contract with the state that spells out how many hours of care the consumer is eligible to receive.

By cutting the agreed upon hours, “the state had breached a duty of fair dealing it owed the workers,” wrote Justice Susan Owens in the majority opinion, the Associated Press reported.

In its ruling (pdf), the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s decision to award the aides an additional $38 million in “prejudgment interest.”

— by Deane Beebe

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