Former Epic technical writer wins arbitration case for overtime pay

They might have struck out in the class action legal realm, but a recent arbitration case might demonstrate that former Epic Systems employees have strength in individual numbers.

According to Wisconsin law firms Habush Habush & Rottier and Hawks Quindel, former Epic technical writer Emily Harris recently secured an arbitration victory in an ongoing overtime pay lawsuit against Epic, the Verona-based electronic medical records developer.

The dispute centers on Epic’ refusal to pay overtime wages to some groups of its employees, including technical writers. Attorneys representing Harris point to the company’s practice of barring class actions, essentially forcing their workers into a private arbitration.

Epic was thought to be victorious in 2018, after the U.S. Supreme Court held that the company could force its employees seeking overtime wages out of court and into private arbitration.

However, Harris is the first individual in a large group of Epic employees with ongoing overtime claims who took the firm to arbitration and won.

In a Jan. 6 press release, Harris encouraged other Epic employees to follow her lead. “Although I strongly disagree with Epic's practice of compelling employees to enter mandatory arbitration agreements, I'm relieved and encouraged by this decision,” she states. “I hope that other current and former Epic employees will feel empowered to ask that their work be valued fairly.”

Attorney Caitlin Madden of Hawks Quindel, one of the attorneys representing Harris, notes that similarly situated Epic technical writers won’t see a dime of the money the company is being forced to pay to Harris unless they bring their cases separately.

Harris’ lead counsel, attorney Jason Knutson of Habush Habush and Rottier, says unless the practice of forced arbitration is banned, or unless employers voluntarily stop the practice, the firm’s attorneys will take these cases to arbitration one case at a time.

Knutson added that some large businesses have indeed “stopped forcing these arbitration provisions” on employees.

According to the two law firms, the arbitrator issued an award ordering that Epic Systems pay overtime wages Harris had earned, along with additional damages.

They say Epic Systems had argued that it did not have to pay Harris overtime because she was a “computer professional” or “administrative professional,” which are terms used in the employment regulations. The arbitrator disagreed and ruled that neither of those exemptions applied, and therefore Epic was legally required to pay Harris overtime pay.

The arbitration award is only part of the ongoing litigation against Epic. In addition to technical writers, quality assurance employees have also brought claims in arbitration for unpaid overtime.