Are Doctors Entitled to Unpaid Compensation in New York?

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Are Doctors Entitled to Unpaid Compensation in New York?

Are Doctors Entitled to Unpaid Compensation in New York? by James Vagnini{3 minutes to read}  Currently pending in the New York State Supreme Court for Kings County is a class-action lawsuit styled Okeke v. Interfaith Medical Center, et al. The plaintiff, Theophilus Okeke, is a former emergency room physician at Interfaith Medical Center (the “Hospital”) located in Brooklyn, New York. He alleges that the Hospital promised him and other similarly situated physicians additional compensation of $96.00 per shift for performing medical examinations on the Hospital’s pre-admitted psychiatric patients. However, the Hospital failed to provide them with the promised compensation.

Physicians, like other professionals, are typically exempt from both state and federal wage-and-hour laws, such as overtime. New York has a statute titled New York Labor Law section 193 which prohibits an employer from making certain deductions from an employee’s paycheck and is unique because it protects all employees, including professionals. Further, the New York State Court of Appeals held in Ryan v. Kellogg Partners Institutional Servs., 19 N.Y.3d 1 (2012) that a withholding of earned and due non-discretionary bonus pay constitutes an unlawful deduction pursuant to Section 193.

In Okeke, the Hospital sought to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that he was an exempt employee and thus not entitled to his $96.00 per shift when he performed medical examinations upon pre-admitted psychiatric patients. Using Section 193 and Ryan, the New York Supreme Court denied the Hospital’s motion, holding that a non-wholesale withholding of pay constitutes an unlawful deduction pursuant to Section 193. This means that if the Hospital did not pay him anything at all, he would not have a claim under Section 193. However, because Dr. Okeke alleges that the Hospital withheld this specific portion of his earned and due pay, he could proceed with his claims.

The Hospital intends to file an appeal but has not done so. Interestingly, Dr. Okeke has filed a second class-action lawsuit alleging that the Hospital failed to pay him and other similarly situated physicians for their time spent working through their unpaid meal breaks. This second lawsuit is premised on a contention similar to the first: a non-wholesale deduction of pay constitutes an unlawful deduction pursuant to Section 193. As with the first, the Hospital moved to dismiss the second action, but the Court has not yet issued its ruling.

Okeke demonstrates that there is an avenue in New York for the usually exempt professional to recoup his/her unpaid wages, which is typically not afforded by other states and the federal government.  

James A. Vagnini
Partner
email: [email protected]
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