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Supreme Court Justices Hold Plaintiff’s Claim Moot in Collective Action Under FLSA, Dismissing Case

On April 16, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that may limit the availability of collective action suits under the Fair Labor Standards Act. By way of background, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) establishes federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements that cannot be modified by contract. Section 16(b) of FLSA permits employees to bring a private cause of action on their own behalf and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated” for specific violations of the FLSA. A suit brought on behalf of other employees is known as a “collective action.” The issue before the Court was whether a collective action is justiciable when the lone plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot.

In 2009, Laura Symczyk (“Symczyk”) filed a complaint alleging that her former employer, Genesis HealthCare Corporation (“Genesis”), violated the FLSA and Pennsylvania law by implementing an automatic meal break deduction policy for certain employees, even when those employees performed compensable work during those breaks. Symczyk brought the action as a collective action under Section 16(b) of the FLSA. Genesis filed an Answer to the Complaint, and served Symczyk’s attorney with an offer of judgment in the amount of $7,500.00 in alleged unpaid wages, plus attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses. Symczyk refused the settlement offer. Genesis then filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, arguing that its offer to pay Symczyk the full amount of her potential recovery resulted in Symczyk losing a legally cognizable interest in the outcome of the litigation, thereby rendering her claim moot. The District Court agreed, and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Symczyk appealed, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The Third Circuit ordered the District Court to consider whether a motion for conditional certification should “relate back” to the initial complaint, which would allow Symczyk to represent the class even though she conceded that her individual claim was moot. Genesis then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that Symczyk’s lawsuit was no longer justiciable because she conceded that her individual claim was moot and that she lacked any personal interest in representing others in the lawsuit. The Court also held that Symczyk’s claim could not “relate back” to the initial filing of the complaint because Symczyk failed to move for “conditional certification” when her claim became moot. The Court noted that, even if Symczyk had secured a conditional certification ruling, the members of the putative class could only become parties to the collective action if they filed written consent with the court, which they had not yet done. Because no other parties had come forward to participate in the litigation, the lawsuit could not survive the satisfaction of Symczyk’s claim.

Chaired by Partner Brett J. Schneider, WSH’s Labor and Employment Law Group regularly defends employers brought under the FLSA, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Florida Civil Rights Act, the Florida Whistleblower’s Act, and similar Federal, State and local laws. The Group also regularly defends employers against discrimination charges brought before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Florida Commission on Human Relations, and similar local agencies. The Group also works with our Litigation Division defending employers in Federal and State courts across Florida, including class actions and multi-plaintiff cases.

Categories: Labor and EmploymentLitigationFederal LawFederal CourtsClass ActionsCivil Procedure
Tags: Jamie A. ColeEdward G. GuedesMichael S. PopokBrett J. SchneiderJoseph H. SerotaMatthew H. MandelFort Lauderdale LitigatorsMiami LitigatorsSouth Florida LitigatorsFort Lauderdale Employment Law AttorneysMiami Employment Law AttorneysSouth Florida Employment Law AttorneysFort Lauderdale Labor Law AttorneysMiami Labor Law AttorneysSouth Florida Labor Law AttorneysFlorida Labor LawyersFlorida Litigation AttorneysFort Lauderdale Civil Litigation AttorneysFort Lauderdale Employment LawyerFort Lauderdale Employment LawyerMiami Employment AttorneyMiami Employment AttorneyMiami Labor LawyerMiami Litigation AttorneySouth Florida Employment Lawyers
Author(s): Brett J. Schneider & Brooke P. Dolara