PARKERSBURG – The parent company of a Wood County hospital has tentatively agreed to pay its former employees nearly $5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit.

Signature Hospital Corp. on Jan. 27 agreed to pay over 600 St. Joseph's Hospital employees $4.7 million in sick leave they accrued prior to its merger with neighboring Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital. The two merged on March 1 to become Camden-Clark Medical Center as part of the West Virginia United Health System.

In a lawsuit filed two weeks following the merger, nine former St. Joseph's employees -- 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 -- alleged the Houston, Texas-based company led them to believe any sick leave they accumulated would be honored by WVUHS. After Judge Robert A. Waters certified the suit class action in April, court records show between 630 and 700 employees lost their sick leave on Feb. 28.

The tentative settlement was reached three days prior to the scheduled trial date. The amount is over $6 million less than the $10.8 million the class members demanded in a filing made Nov. 16.

Former Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Ginny A. Conley, co-counsel for the employees, told The Parkersburg News and Sentinel the total value of the lost sick leave was $3.6 million.

The details of the settlement stipulated that the nine named plaintiffs 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 multiplied by the hourly rate. Conley and co-counsel George Cosenza, a Parkersburg criminal defense attorney, would be paid from the remaining funds.

Records show the settlement would be paid with $5 million Signature was ordered to set aside from its sale of the Gulf Coast Medical Center in Wharton, Texas.

The terms also called from Signature to complete payment to all class members by April 12, 2012. Any class member could object to the settlement by filing a notice with the Wood Circuit Clerk's Office within 45 days.

Records show, Signature agreed to the settlement making no admission of liability. A final hearing on the settlement is scheduled for March 29.

Wood Circuit Court case number 11-C-98

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