Third Circuit Stymies Employer’s Attempt to Force FLSA Overtime and Meal Break Pay Claims into Collectively Bargained Arbitration

Earlier this month, in a 2-1 decision, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that certified nursing assistants covered by a collective bargaining agreement are not required to arbitrate their FLSA claims before seeking court relief despite a mandatory arbitration clause in their labor agreement. The assistants claimed that their shift differentials should be included in the calculation of their overtime pay and challenged the deductions from their pay for meal breaks they did not take. The Third Circuit held that resolution of the assistants’ FLSA claims did not depend on an interpretation of language in the labor agreement and, therefore, the assistants were not required to arbitrate their claims. Jones v. SCO Silver Care Operations LLC (May 18, 2017).

The Court of Appeals explained that a court may compel arbitration of an FLSA claim when (1) the arbitration provision clearly and unmistakably waives the employee’s ability to vindicate federal statutory rights in court; and (2) the statute does not exclude arbitration as an appropriate forum. Here, the labor agreement’s grievance-arbitration provision did not expressly refer to FLSA or wage-hour claims, so there was no effective waiver of the right to go to court. Nonetheless, the Third Circuit recognized that even where a labor agreement’s arbitration clause fails to refer to the FLSA, the FLSA claimant may be forced to arbitrate disputes over an interpretation of a labor agreement if the FLSA claims are “inevitably intertwined with the interpretation or application” of the labor agreement.

On the issue of shift differentials, SCO Silver Care argued that the FLSA claim alleging miscalculation of the overtime rate consisted of a dispute over an implicit term of the labor agreement and whether shift differentials already include an overtime pay component. The Court rejected this argument and held that the overtime claim was governed by the FLSA, no analysis of the labor agreement’s treatment of shift differentials was required, and the Court should determine only whether the shift differentials at issue are remuneration that the FLSA requires to be included in the calculation of an employee’s regular hourly pay rate.

On the question whether the assistants’ meal breaks must be treated as hours worked, the employer argued that resolution of this issue depends on determining various meal break practices that occurred while the labor agreement was in effect and that this determination should be made by an arbitrator. The Court rejected this argument as well and found that the alleged meal break practices raised factual issues as to what work was performed during meal breaks and did not require a review of language in the labor agreement. The Court stated that the employer could not “transform these factual disputes inherent to any FLSA claim into disputes over provisions of the CBA subject to arbitration.”

If you would like to discuss how the Third Circuit’s decision affects your pay policies, arbitration clauses, wage and hour compliance program, and your business, please contact Patrick W. McGovern, Esq., Partner in the Firm’s Wage and Hour Compliance Practice Group at 973-535-7129 or at pmcgovern@nullgenovaburns.com.

 

 

 

The D.C. Circuit Vacates NLRB Ruling on Driver Status in FedEx Case

In early March 2017, the D.C. Circuit in FedEx Home Delivery v. NLRB, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 3826 (D.C. Cir. 2017) vacated a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “the Board”) ruling that Connecticut FedEx drivers constitute employees under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). The D.C. court said that the case was indistinguishable from a 2009 case before the panel involving a group of Massachusetts drivers.

In 2007, single-route FedEx drivers based in Hartford, CT elected Teamsters Local 671 (“Union”) to represent them which lead to FedEx filing subsequent objections to the NLRB. While the appeal was pending, the D.C. Circuit decided FedEx Home Delivery v. NLRB (FedEx I), 563 F.3d 492 (D.C. Cir. 2009), finding that FedEx drivers based out of the company’s Wilmington, MA terminal constituted independent contractors under the NLRA. In its holding, the court vacated the NLRB’s order to engage with the union and denied the Board’s cross-motion for enforcement. The court held that the NLRB was bound to apply the common-law ten factor agency test as set forth in the Restatement (Second of Agency), but explained that rather than a control inquiry, that the emphasis of these factors should be on  “entrepreneurial opportunity” for gain or for loss as it relates to the determination of a worker’s status.  FedEx identified three specific entrepreneurial opportunities available to the drivers: (1) drivers’ ability to hire other drivers; (2) drivers’ ability to sell routes; and (3) drivers’ ability to operate multiple routes.  Persuaded by these arguments, the court held that the FedEx drivers were independent contractors.

In 2014, the NLRB issued a revised decision in FedEx Home Delivery, 361 N.L.R.B. No. 55 (Sept. 30, 2014) which found that the facts pertaining to the Hartford drivers and those discussed in FedEx I were “virtually identical.” Still, however, the NLRB declined to adopt the D.C. Circuit’s 2009 interpretation of the NLRA because it disagreed with the court’s emphasis on “entrepreneurial opportunity” as the key factor in determining a worker’s status. Specifically, it said that the Board should give weight to actual, not merely theoretical, entrepreneurial opportunity, and it should evaluate the constraints imposed by a company on the individual’s ability to pursue that opportunity. Moreover, it noted that FedEx unilaterally drafts, promulgates, and changes the terms of its agreements with drivers, a feature that weighs “heavily in favor of employee status” along with the Board’s view that the drivers lacked independence and were disallowed the initiative and decision-making authority normally associated with an independent contractor   The Board also found that FedEx engaged in unfair labor practices affecting commerce under the NLRA by refusing to recognize and bargain with the union.

In the present case, FedEx argued that the question had already been argued before the D.C. Circuit in FedEx I and involved the same parties, thus the same result should follow. The court agreed and denied the Board’s cross-application for enforcement, granted FedEx’s petitions for review, and vacated the Board’s orders. The D.C. Circuit noted that in FedEx I, the Board considered all common-law factors and was still persuaded that the drivers were independent contractors. The court also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court previously held that that the question whether a worker is an “employee” or “independent contractor” under the NLRA is a question of “pure” common-law agency principles that a court can review and does not require special administrative expertise.

The takeaway for employers is that in determining whether workers are employees or independent contractors, employers must remember that despite significant overlap, there are in fact different tests as related to the NLRA, federal taxes, the Fair Labor Standards Act, state wage and hour law, ERISA, the Affordable Care Act, and various other circumstances.  While the D.C. Circuit has for the moment clarified (or rather reinforced) its view as to the proper test under the NLRA, employers should always focus on where their greatest liability is and attempt to cater to the relevant test as much as possible.

For questions about independent contractors or trucking and logistics, please contact John Vreeland, Esq., Chair of the Transportation, Trucking & Logistics Group and a Partner in the Labor Law Practice Group at jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com or (973) 535-7118, or, Harris S. Freier, Esq., a Partner in the Firm’s Employment Law and Appellate Practice Groups, at hfreier@nullgenovaburns.com or (973) 533-0777. Please also sign-up our free Labor & Employment Blog at www.labor-law-blog.com to keep up-to-date on the latest news and legal developments effecting your workforce.

How to Avoid Disney’s Not-So-Fairy Tale $3.8 Million Payment of Employee Back Wages

On Friday, March 17, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) and two subsidiaries of The Walt Disney Co. (“Disney”), the Disney Vacation Club Management Corp., and the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. Inc., reached an agreement to resolve claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), requiring the payment of back wages of over $3.8 million to more than 16,000 employees of the two Florida-based Disney companies.

According to the DOL, Disney deducted a uniform (or “costume”) expense from employee pay, which lead some employees’ hourly rate to fall below the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour. The subsidiaries also did not compensate the employees for performing pre- and post-shift duties while additionally failing to maintain required time and payroll records.

As part of the agreement, Disney agreed to start training all Florida-based managers, supervisors, and non-exempt employees on what constitutes compensable worktime and emphasizing the need to record all records pertaining to time accurately.

There are certain steps that employers can do to avoid the significant damages Disney incurred including:

  • Maintain accurate payroll, time, and schedule related records. This is particularly important to our hospitality and restaurant clients where record keeping can be especially difficult.  Also, remember that under the FLSA, the records must be  maintained for a minimum of three years for payroll records and six years under New Jersey and New York law.
  • Deductions are an easy target for the plaintiffs’ bar. Employers must make sure that any deductions are legal under state law and that the deductions if permissible do not bring the affected employee below the state or federal minimum wage;
  • Perform a wage and hour self-audit every two years to avoid misclassification issues and to ensure your recordkeeping and pay practices are consistent with the law;
  • To avoid donning and duffing claims (claims involving changing into and out of uniforms, costumes, and protective equipment for example), employers must take care to distinguish between non-compensable time when changing into and out of the uniform is merely for the employees’ convenience as opposed to compensable time when the job cannot be accomplished without wearing the designated uniform or costume or safety equipment and it is impractical to arrive at work wearing same.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss best practices in complying with federal wage regulations, please contact John R. Vreeland, Esq., Partner & Chair of the  Wage and Hour Compliance Practice Group at jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com or call 973-533-0777 or Harris S. Freier, Esq., a Partner in the Employment Law and Appellate practice groups, at hfreier@nullgenovaburns.com, or call 973-533-0777.  Mr. Vreeland and Mr. Freier routinely work together in defending wage and hour class actions.  Please visit our free Labor & Employment Blog at www.labor-law-blog.com to stay up-to-date on the latest news and legal developments affecting your workforce.

Supreme Court Punts on Whether Service Advisors Are Exempt from FLSA Overtime Premium Pay

The United States Supreme Court recently issued its long awaited decision in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro. At issue in the case was whether “service advisors” employed by car dealerships are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime premium pay requirement, as well as the validity of a related 2011 United States Department of Labor regulation. Unfortunately, the Court did not decide whether service advisors are exempt. Instead, the Court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with the instruction that the Ninth Circuit decide the issue “without placing controlling weight” on the DOL’s 2011 regulation.

The issues in Encino Motorcars were rooted in a provision of the FLSA that expressly provides that “any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” is exempt from the FLSA’s overtime premium pay requirement. The FLSA is silent as to whether service advisors qualify for this exemption. In 1970, the DOL issued an interpretive regulation in which it concluded that service advisors do not fall within the exemption. Several courts rejected the DOL’s interpretation, and in a 1978 Opinion Letter the DOL changed course and took the position that service advisors are exempt. The DOL maintained this position until 2011, when it issued a regulation that, without explanation, excluded service advisors from the exemption.

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Encino Motorcars arose from a Ninth Circuit decision in which the Ninth Circuit relied on the DOL’s 2011 regulation to hold that a group of service advisors were eligible for overtime premium pay. The service advisors at issue would meet with a customer, evaluate the customer’s car, suggest repairs and dealership service plans, and then send the car to a mechanic who repaired and/or serviced the car. In remanding the case, the Supreme Court found that the DOL failed to follow basic procedural requirements of administrative rulemaking, which require administrative agencies to explain their rules. The Supreme Court found this especially important here, where the DOL issued a rule contrary to its prior position. The Supreme Court was critical of the DOL for its failure to explain adequately its rationale for changing its position, and its failure to consider the public’s reliance on the DOL’s longstanding policy. Car dealerships will have to wait for the Ninth Circuit’s subsequent decision, and possibly another Supreme Court decision, before the issue of whether service advisors are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime premium pay requirement is resolved.

For more information regarding the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, or regarding any other wage and hour issues, please contact John R. Vreeland, Esq. Director of the Firm’s Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group, at 973-535-7118 or jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com, or Joseph V. Manney, Esq. at 973-646-3297 or jmanney@nullgenovaburns.com.

Major Changes to Federal Overtime Regulations Take Effect December 1. Are You Prepared?

This week, President Obama and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez announced the publication of a final rule to take effect December 1 that will overhaul the Fair Labor Standard Act’s overtime regulations. The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) estimates that these changes will add more than four million employees to the overtime rolls.

Right now, in general, an employee is exempt from overtime pay if the employee satisfies three tests:

  • Duties Test: The employee’s primary job duties qualify as executive, administrative, or professional in nature, as these terms are defined in the regulations.
  • Salary Basis Test: The employee is paid on a salary basis, meaning the employee receives a predetermined and fixed salary that is not reduced because of variations in the quality or quantity of the work performed (i.e., no docking).
  • Salary Level Test: The employee’s weekly salary meets the minimum amount specified in the regulations.

The most significant change in the USDOL’s new rule is to the Salary Level Test. Today, the minimum salary needed to qualify for exempt status is $455 per week, or $23,600 annually. On December 1, 2016, this minimum will increase to $913 per week! This means in order to be exempt, an employee must be paid an annual salary of at least $47,476.

By more than doubling the minimum salary amount, many salaried employees who work long hours and currently qualify for an overtime exemption will on December 1 become eligible for overtime pay unless their salaries are increased. An employee whose weekly salary is below $913 will become overtime-eligible and you will have to track the employee’s hours of work through a verifiable timekeeping method and pay time-and-a-half for each hour worked over 40 in a workweek.

Employers need to start preparing now. First, you must identify your exempt employees whose salaries are below the new salary threshold. Then perform a business analysis to determine whether it is more cost effective to increase employee salaries to the minimum threshold, or treat these employees as overtime-eligible. We also recommend that you take this opportunity to evaluate whether your exempt employees are satisfying the other two tests. Many times we find that an employee’s exempt status is based on a job description that no longer accurately reflects the employee’s actual job duties. We recommend that employers self-audit their job classifications at least every two years to ensure employees classified as exempt currently satisfy a duties test and that pay practices for exempt employees meet the Salary Basis Test. Periodic self-audits are especially important now because the USDOL’s new rule establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary level every three years.

Employers cannot afford to be out of compliance with the FLSA. The Departments of Labor at both the federal and state levels have already signaled that they intend to aggressively enforce wage and hour laws. In addition, plaintiffs’ lawyers have become focused on wage and hour claims. Wage and hour litigation is by far the fastest growing type of employment litigation. Last year, more than 9,000 FLSA lawsuits were filed in the United States; many of them were filed as “collective actions” – the FLSA’s version of a class action. That is a 450% increase since 2000. This trend will almost certainly continue as plaintiffs’ lawyers hope to catch employers flat-footed and out of compliance with the new overtime regulations.

Wage and hour litigation can be expensive for employers. The FLSA provides for 100% liquidated damages – or double damages. It also shifts the plaintiff’s legal costs to the employer, meaning if the plaintiff proves a single violation of the law, the employer pays the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. This typically makes it difficult to resolve these types of suits early as the FLSA creates an incentive for a plaintiff’s lawyer to work the case and then recover attorneys’ fees when the lawsuit finally ends.

Again, the time to prepare is now, not when you receive the lawyer’s demand letter or the Department of Labor’s enforcement notice. A thorough self-audit, especially with the assistance of counsel, is an employer’s best protection against costly wage and hour enforcement actions and lawsuits.

For more information regarding these recent developments, please contact John R. Vreeland, Esq. Director of the firm’s Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group, at jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.

Second Circuit Rules Court Approval or USDOL Supervision of Settlements Required in FLSA Suits

On August 7, 2015, the Second Circuit ruled that suits brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) cannot be resolved privately and require approval of a federal court or supervision by the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”).

In Cheeks v. Freeport Pancakes House, Inc., 2d Cir., No. 14-299, 8/7/15, the plaintiff sued his former employer seeking to recover unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees under the FLSA and New York labor laws.  After engaging in some discovery, the parties reached a private settlement to dismiss the employee’s claims with prejudice and, pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 41”), filed a joint stipulation and order to dismiss the lawsuit.  Under Rule 41, parties may voluntarily agree to dismiss an action without court order unless there is a federal statute prohibiting such agreement.  The District Court denied the parties’ application to dismiss the lawsuit.

As part of its ruling, the District Court directed the parties to file a copy of the settlement agreement on the public docket and to “show cause why the proposed settlement reflects a reasonable compromise of disputed issues rather than a mere waiver of statutory rights brought by an employer’s overreaching.”  The parties jointly sought certification of an appeal to the Second Circuit instead, seeking a ruling on whether the parties could stipulate to dismissal of the action without court approval.

In affirming the lower court’s decision to deny the stipulation of settlement, the Second Circuit decided, given the unique policy considerations underlying the FLSA, that the FLSA fell within Rule 41’s “applicable federal statute” exception, thus making district court or DOL approval a requirement to dismiss an FLSA cause of action with prejudice via private settlement.  The Court reasoned that “the FLSA is a uniquely protective statute … with a strong remedial purpose: to prevent abuses by unscrupulous employers and remedy the disparate bargaining power between employers and employees.”  Accordingly, the Second Circuit held that judicial or DOL approval will protect susceptible employees from feeling coerced into accepting unreasonable or discounted settlement offers quickly.

The Cheeks ruling makes it clear that, at least in the Second Circuit, a privately negotiated settlement agreement requires court or DOL approval in order to extinguish FLSA claims in a lawsuit. This means the settlement agreement must be filed in open court.  Failure to do so in New York, Connecticut and Vermont puts the employer at risk that it will be sued again by the same claimants.

For more information regarding this decision and best practices, please contact John Vreeland, Esq., Director of the Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group, at jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.

 

 

Second Circuit Outlines The Way for Employers to Hire Unpaid Interns

On July 2, 2015, in a matter of first impression, the Second Circuit issued a ruling in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., Nos. 13-4478, 13-4481 (2d Cir. July 2, 2015), and provided a new test for whether a worker can be classified as an unpaid intern under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”). and thus entitled to compensation, including minimum wage and overtime.  The ruling by the Second Circuit rejected both the Department of Labor (“DOL”)’s six-factor test to determine whether or not an intern should be classified as an employee, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York’s previous reliance on the DOL’s test.

In 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York followed the DOL’s 2010 guidance for whether unpaid interns working in the for-profit private sector should be classified as employees.  The DOL test lays out six factors, including, for example, whether the internship experience is for the benefit of the intern, whether the intern displaces regular employees, and whether the employer derives an immediate advantage from the intern’s work. The DOL test requires that each and every factor must apply in order for a position to be an unpaid internship.  The District Court held that since not all of the DOL’s six factors applied, the plaintiffs in Glatt should have been classified as employees under the FLSA and the NYLL.

The Second Circuit, however, held that a “primary beneficiary test” should be utilized when determining whether or not employers need to pay their interns.  In other words, it must be determined whether the employer, rather than the intern, is the primary beneficiary of the relationship.  The Second Circuit found that the DOL six factor test was “too rigid” and unpersuasive, and was not entitled to deference.

To aid in determining whether the worker or the employer is the primary beneficiary, the Second Circuit articulated a “non-exhaustive” list of seven factors that should be considered and balanced when deciding whether the employer or intern is the primary beneficiary of the relationship:

  • The extent to which the intern and the employer clearly understand that there is no expectation of compensation;
  • The extent to which the internship provides training that would be similar to that which would be given in an educational environment, including the clinical and other hands-on training provided by educational institutes;
  • The extent to which the internship is tied to the intern’s formal education program by integrated coursework or the receipt of academic credit;
  • The extent to which the internship accommodates the intern’s academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar;
  • The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period in which the internship provides the intern with beneficial learning;
  • The extent to which the intern’s work complements, rather than displaces, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern; and
  • The extent to which the intern and the employer understand that the internship is conducted without entitlement to a paid job at the conclusion of the internship

The Second Circuit made clear that no one factor is dispositive and that every factor need not point in the same direction to conclude that the intern is not an employee. Thus, Courts are free to look to other factors, and the failure to satisfy any one factor is not dispositive.  While the Second Circuit’s list of factors only adopted three of the DOL’s factors, it retained the DOL’s requirement that the position provide an educational value, suggesting that it is crucial to include an educational aspect in an unpaid internship.  The Second Circuit opined that this new test takes into account the “relationship between the internship and the intern’s formal education…by focusing on the educational aspects of the internship our approach better reflects the role of internships in today’s economy.”

The Glatt decision signals positive news for employers in New York, Connecticut and Vermont when determining whether or not they need to pay interns.  Private sector for-profit companies with internship programs should evaluate their programs to ensure that they are in compliance with all state and federal laws.  As the Second Circuit explained, a bona fide internship must “integrate classroom learning with practical skill development in a real-world setting.” It will be interesting to see whether or not other Circuit Courts find this ruling persuasive.

For more information regarding this decision and to learn how your business can implement best practices when implementing internship programs, please contact John C. Petrella, Director of the firm’s Employment Litigation Practice Group at jpeteralla@nullgenovaburns.com or Dina M. Mastellone, Esq., Director of the firm’s Human Resources Practice Group, at dmastellone@nullgenovaburns.com or 973-533-0777.

Lactation and Breast-Feeding Are “Pregnancy Related Conditions” Protected Under Title VII

In EEOC v. Houston Funding II, Ltd., the Fifth Circuit issued a landmark decision finding that terminating a female employee because she is lactating or expressing milk is unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978) (PDA).  The Court also found that lactation is a medical condition related to pregnancy.

Donnica Venters (“Venters”) took a leave of absence to give birth, and subsequently asked her supervisor whether she could use a breast pump at work.  Instead of responding to her inquiry, Venters was told that she was being discharged for job abandonment.  The EEOC filed suit claiming that Houston Funding discriminated against Venters based on her sex, including her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (citing the language from the PDA).  The Fifth Circuit agreed that terminating Venters simply because she is lactating or expressing breast milk constitutes sex discrimination, and that an adverse action “motivated by these factors clearly imposes upon women a burden that male employees need not – – indeed, could not – suffer.”

The Fifth Circuit held that lactation is a physiological condition distinct to women who have undergone pregnancy and childbirth, and that men, as a matter of biological fact, cannot lactate. As such, the Court held that lactation is included in the term “pregnancy related conditions” and protected by Title VII and the PDA.  Female employees, who are lactating and/or breast-feeding, may now bring claims under Title VII and the PDA.  Employers should also be aware that the Affordable Care Act already amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require an employer provide “reasonable time for an employee to express milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”  Employers must take their obligation to provide time and space to express breast milk seriously and must also take caution when considering taking adverse action against such employees.  The EEOC has made pregnancy- related limitations one of its six national priorities to address in the context of equal employment law, so employers should critically analyze any request or inquiry from employees regarding pregnancy or post-pregnancy accommodations to avoid unnecessary negative liability.

For more information on the implications of the EEOC v. Houston Funding II, Ltd. decision and other sex and pregnancy policies and regulations in the workplace, please contact Dena B. Calo, Esq, dcalo@nullgenovaburns.com, Director of the Human Resources Practice Group and Partner in the Employment Law & Litigation Group, or Jane Khodarkovsky, Esq., Associate in the Employment Law & Litigation Group, at jkhodarkovsky@nullgenovaburns.com.

Supreme Court Holds that Early Offer of Judgment Moots Nascent FLSA Collective Action

On April 16, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit’s decision in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk and held that a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) collective action became moot once the employer’s made a Rule 68 offer of judgment that fully satisfied the damages claims of the employee who brought the suit.

In Genesis, the employee filed an action in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia for unpaid wages under the FLSA. In her complaint, the employee claimed to represent similarly situated individuals but no one else had joined the lawsuit when the employer made a Rule 68 offer of judgment to the employee. The offer of judgment was for $7500 plus counsel fees and costs as determined by the Court. The employee did not respond to the offer of judgment and on the employer’s motion, the District Court dismissed the entire suit. The District Court found that the employee’s claim was moot since it was satisfied by the employer’s offer and, since no other parties had joined the action at that time, the complaint was dismissed.

On appeal the Third Circuit agreed that the offer of judgment was effective to have the individual employee’s claim dismissed, regardless of whether the offer was accepted, but not the collective action claims. The Third Circuit reasoned that the employer’s attempt to “pick off” the plaintiff before the collective action could be conditionally certified “frustrated” the purpose of the FLSA collective action process and remanded the case to the District Court for possible conditional certification of the collective action.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit but avoided resolving the circuit split regarding whether a Rule 68 offer of judgment can moot a plaintiff’s claim. The Court ruled narrowly that both the District Court and the Third Circuit were in agreement that the employee’s claim was moot after she received the employer’s Rule 68 offer. Then disagreeing with the Third Circuit, the Supreme Court held that, in the absence of any other claimant’s opting in, the collective action claims became moot once the employee’s individual claim became moot, because Ms. Symczyk lacked any personal interest in representing others in the action. The Court further emphasized the distinction between a class action brought under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and an FLSA collective action. Specifically, the Court stated that conditional certification under the FLSA is not tantamount to a Rule 23 class certification because “[t]he sole consequence of conditional certification is the sending of court-approved written notice to employees . . . who in turn become parties to a collective action only by filing written consent with the court.”

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, an employer that is named in a putative collective action in federal district court now has another option for resolving the claims early, by making a Rule 68 offer of judgment to the named plaintiff early on, before other employees and former employees opt in.

For more information about FLSA collective actions, including defending these suits, please contact Patrick W. McGovern, Esq., pmcgovern@nullgenovaburns.com, or Rebecca Fink, Esq., rfink@nullgenovaburns.com, in the Firm’s Labor Practice Group.

Nationwide Chain of Gyms Agrees to Pay Substantial Wage and Hour Settlement

24-Hour Fitness, a nationwide chain of fitness centers, recently agreed to pay nearly $17.5 million to settle a class action suit filed on behalf of trainers and managers who claimed that they were misclassified as exempt employees and denied overtime pay.

The 24-Hour Fitness settlement is a reminder to fitness center employers that not all managers and trainers are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements. Determining whether an employee qualifies for an overtime exemption requires a fact-specific analysis of the employee’s duties and how the employee is paid. For instance, in the case of classifying a trainer as exempt, the employer must ensure the employee at issue successfully completed four academic years of pre-professional and professional study in a specialized curriculum accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, and is certified by the Board of Certifications of the National Athletic Trainers Association Board of Certification.

For more information on our firm’s wage and hour audit services tailored to fitness centers, please contact John R. Vreeland, Esq., Director of the firm’s Wage & Hour Compliance Practice Group, jvreeland@nullgenovaburns.com, or Douglas J. Klein, Esq., dklein@nullgenovaburns.com.