HomeNewsWest Tennessee Healthcare employee wins dispute over overpaid bonuses

West Tennessee Healthcare employee wins dispute over overpaid bonuses

West Tennessee Healthcare sued one of its employees in Madison County General Sessions Court Friday, March 10. The organization claimed radiology technician Amber Wood earned $24,464 in overpaid bonuses during the pandemic and needed to pay back $17,210, excluding taxes. 

In the courtroom Friday, multiple managers with the healthcare system outlined a bonus plan that was originally set up for the nursing staff during the peak of the pandemic. For each extra shift worked, the employee was supposed to receive $500. 

At the beginning of 2022, that bonus was expanded to the radiology department, at the request of Executive Director Keith Garner. The lawsuit was centered around whether that structure was explained properly or not.

Employees said a chart posted in the break room of the radiology department showed a grid with the bonus amounts listed. The first shift was labeled $500, the second shift was labeled $1,000, etc. So when employees looked at it, they were led to believe the bonus was compounding and not cumulative. Instead of a weekend shift paying $1,000, it would pay $1,500.

Two other radiology department employees testified on Wood’s behalf, saying they asked Garner if what they were seeing was true. 

“It’s unheard of. That’s why we asked,” David Barnett said, referring to the bonus structure. 

When Wood testified, she said she was sitting quietly in the corner of the room the day Keith Garner explained the new bonus structure. At the time, she had just graduated from college and lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her husband and four children.

From January to May of 2022, the miscalculated bonuses were paid to more than 15 employees. The calculations for bonuses were done by hand by immediate supervisors. 

Wood made about $44,000 in bonuses in that time period, more than doubling her salary. $24,464 of that was through the discrepancy in the bonus structure. Wood and her husband were able to put a down payment on a house with the extra money.

The mistake was caught in June of 2022, when Lori Patterson, who was the immediate supervisor for Wood, went to Keith Garner and said, “I’ve made a mistake.”

Garner then asked the employees to pay back the money. West Tennessee Healthcare argued there is a clause in the employee contract requiring employees to pay back overpaid compensation. 

Wood’s two coworkers said when Garner approached them about the overpaid bonuses, totalling $350 for one employee and about $5,000 for the other, Garner said he could “neither confirm nor deny” if he explained the bonus as compounding or cumulative. 

In court, Garner said he did not remember how he explained the bonus structure to employees.

Out of all the employees who were overpaid, Wood was the only one to refuse to pay it back. Her attorney argued that the discrepancy in pay was West Tennessee Healthcare’s problem, not Wood’s. 

Judge Hugh Harvey agreed with that sentiment: 

“It’s America, man. It’s a free market. If you pay someone, you pay them. Ms. Patterson misrepresented this policy. She interpreted it to be one way. Employees testified they believed it to be the same way Ms. Patterson believed it. Mr. Garner is no help because he doesn’t remember anything. He can’t confirm or deny he said anything. In preponderance to the evidence, it appears to me this was presented to the employees, and Ms. Wood relied on that. She was promised a certain thing and she relied on it. She went and made some money. She thought it was hers. Now, they want it back. It looks like according to the summons, August 22, Ms. Woods sent a letter saying she disputed this, and back payments they want go back seven months. Tell somebody they’re going to make this money, for what everyone seems to think it is. Then it turns out we’re changing our minds. She relied on that to her benefit. Case is dismissed.”

Julia Ewoldt, julia@jacksonpost.news



  1. $500 a SHIFT bonus for doing your job? No wonder healthcare is so expensive! Why didn’t factory workers forced to work 10 hrs a day, 6 or 7 days a week get $500 a day bonuses?
    If someone is overpaid and refuses to pay it back they should be charged with theft!

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