PARKERSBURG – For 600 former employees of a Wood County hospital, Christmas comes eight months early this year.

Judge Robert A. Waters on March 29 approved the settlement in a class-action suit employees of St. Joseph's Hospital tentatively reached two months ago. In the suit filed last March, the employees alleged St. Joseph's parent company, Signature Hospital Corp. failed to compensate them for their accrued sick leave following St. Joseph's merger with neighboring Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital.

On March 1, 2011, the two became Camden-Clark Medical Center, an affiliate of West Virginia United Health System.

The weekend prior to trial, the sides announced they agreed to settle the suit for $4.7 million. The details of the settlement stipulated that the nine named plaintiffs -– Carole S. Caplinger, Carol S. Dearman, Earlene Workman, Mark Workman, Beverly J. Flanagan, Mary Kathleen Moore, Ed Rardin, Shannon M. Nelson and K.C. Stalnaker – would receive $5,000 each, and the other employees would be paid using a formula calculating the number of hours they accumulated by Feb. 28, 2011 multiplied by the hourly rate.

Also, the settlement stipulated that all potential class members be given at least 45 days to voice any objections. Though none did, two of the named plaintiffs, Dearman and Earlene Workman, were present, and hugged former Wood County Prosecutor Ginny A. Conley, and George Cosenza, who served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs, following conclusion of the 30-minute hearing.

During the hearing, Conley said, in an effort to ensure all 626 identified class members received their full benefits, both she and Cosenza decided to lower their contingency fee from 33 to 22 percent. Beginning April 5, and for the next six months, meetings would be held where class members could bring their identification, and receive their portion of their settlement.

The agreement, Conley said, allowed for she and Cosenza to pocket any unclaimed funds beyond the $1,034,000 they receive as their fee. Though Waters said Conley and Cosenza's lowered fee was "fair and reasonable...and acceptable in this type of litigation," he reserved the right to determine how any unclaimed funds are distributed.

Thomas Brandon, Signature's co-counsel, announced funds from the settlement were being made available from the sale of the Gulf Coast Medical Center in Wharton, Texas. The funds, he said were ready to be wired on either into an escrow account maintained by Conley.

Also, Brandon said there were nine employees who opted out of the suit. However, he said Signature has paid them separately their full benefits.

Wood Circuit Court case number 11-C-98

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