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St. Mary’s Hospital has agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that the hospital failed to pay 1,400 nurses for meal breaks when they had to stay at the hospital on call.

The settlement, made public Friday in U.S. District Court in Madison, covers nurses who worked at St. Mary’s from Aug. 23, 2009, to April 13, 2013.

The nurses will get a total of $2.3 million, with most of the remainder going to attorney fees. Each nurse will get an average of $1,625.50.

Roberta Fosbinder-Bittorf filed the suit in 2011, shortly after she was fired for missing work for a medical condition, according to her attorney Bill Parsons. She started working at the hospital in 2006.

Her shift usually ran from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with a 30-minute lunch break. She said a charge nurse told her that during the break she had to stay in range of the hospital’s public announcement system to hear of patient emergencies and respond to


That prevented her from having a real break, she told the State Journal in 2011.

“It’s extremely important that nurses have a choice to re-energize physically and mentally in order to give the best possible patient care,” she said.

Parsons, of the firm Hawks Quindel, said he couldn’t comment on the settlement pending the court’s formal approval.

In a statement, St. Mary’s spokesman Steve Van Dinter said the hospital “believes it has complied with the Fair Labor Standards Act and has paid nurses properly during all times.”

Nurses know that if they are interrupted during their lunch break, they are required to change the time clock accordingly to be sure they are paid for that time, Van Dinter said.

“Despite confidence that it has paid nurses appropriately, St. Mary’s decided to settle solely to avoid the mounting litigation costs,” he said.

St. Mary’s nurses don’t have a union like nurses at Meriter Hospital and UW Hospital.

Under Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 budget, the UW Hospital union’s bargaining rights are set to end when its contract expires next year.

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David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.