Supreme Court to Review FLSA Case That Could Limit Employee Remedies

by Co-Managing Editor Emily Pantoja

The Supreme Court recently granted cert to review a case that could have an impact on future class action cases and remedies for employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 656 F.3d 189 (3d Cir. 2011), nurse, Laura Symczyk alleged that her employer illegally deducted thirty minutes for meal breaks regardless of whether she worked during this time. She brought this FLSA class action, or “collective action as it is called in the statute, on behalf of herself and other employees that were also not being paid accordingly.

In a class-action suit, when a plaintiff brings a claim on behalf of a class of employees, these workers are automatically included in the suit unless they opt out. Under the FLSA, a plaintiff may bring suit on behalf of other employees, but these employees must opt-in. Many employers have attempted to rid themselves of these FLSA suits by offering the plaintiff a settlement before other employees can opt-in and join the suit. If the plaintiff were to take the settlement, employers then argue to the court that the entire case should be dismissed because there are now no plaintiffs with an unsatisfied claim before the court.

If this were to become a trend among employers, they would have the advantage and would be able to greatly limit their liability in these cases. In this case, Symczyk refused the settlement and Genesis claimed that in rejecting the offer, she no longer has a valid claim and the case must be dismissed.

The question before the high court is whether or not a defendant in a class action under the FLSA may moot a case by offering the named plaintiff a settlement before any other plaintiffs have an opportunity to join the suit.

The case is set for oral argument on Monday, December 3, 2012.