Judge OKs $78M overtime settlement by air medical company

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A judge has given final approval to a $78 million settlement by a medical helicopter company that was sued by its California flight crew employees over unpaid overtime and missed breaks.

The decision last week by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Y. Smith came three months after Air Methods Corporation of Colorado agreed to settle the class-action lawsuit. Smith gave preliminary approval in July.

Air Methods also is expected to pay daily overtime to its California medical flight crews starting from June 28 — resulting in an estimated 20% or more increase to their salaries, the Mercury News reported in July.

Air Methods is one of the nation's largest air medical transport companies and operates helicopter bases in multiple states. Teams of nurses and paramedics are dispatched in its aircraft, often to remote areas.

Air Methods was accused of refusing to pay daily overtime for California crews working more than eight hours a day. The employees commonly worked 24-hour shifts, according to attorney James Sitkin, who represented the crews. He alleged that Air Methods did not allow crews to take off-duty meal breaks or rest breaks.

The company said in a statement Tuesday that it “decided it was time to put these issues to rest and do what is best is for our California clinicians and Air Methods by making the changes in June instead of waiting for the court to decide this issue.”

“These changes are focused on how we treat uninterrupted sleep time under state overtime requirements, our approach to California daily and weekly overtime, and meal and rest periods. These changes in our pay practices will result in a gross pay increase for all AMC clinicians in California,” the statement said.

It’s estimated each plaintiff will receive more than $100,000 each, on average, the newspaper reported in July.