A group of baggage handlers employed by a major airline at Newark Liberty International Airport enjoyed a victory in their wage lawsuit recently, when a federal judge granted their request for class certification. Ferreras, et al. v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 2:16-cv-02427, opinion (D.N.J., Mar. 5, 2018). The plaintiffs allege that the defendant violated the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (NJWHL) by requiring them to work during times when they were “off the clock.” The lawsuit originally asserted causes of action under both the NJWHL and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Airline employees are specifically exempted from the FLSA’s minimum wage provisions, but they are covered by the NJWHL.
Both federal and state laws require employers to pay overtime compensation to non-exempt employees for work performed in excess of 40 hours in a week, at one-and-a-half times the regular hourly rate. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a4. Ideally, employees submit time sheets showing the total amount of time worked, and for any time worked over 40 hours per week, the employer pays them time-and-a-half. In reality, however, some employers require “off the clock” work, meaning employees must perform job-related services during time that is not included on their time sheets. If the total compensation received does not reflect the total amount of time actually worked, the employer could be liable under the FLSA or the NJWHL.
A wide range of jobs are exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime provisions. Perhaps the best-known of these exemptions is for those who work “in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity.” 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). Some jobs are only exempt from the overtime requirement. This includes “any employee of a carrier by air subject to” federal legislation. Id. at § 213(b)(3). The NJWHL only exempts “employee[s] of a common carrier of passengers by motor bus.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a4. While the statute does not define “motor bus,” it has been construed not to include airplanes.
The plaintiffs in Ferreras work as baggage handlers and in related positions at the airport in Newark. Their hourly rates of pay range from $11.69, for an employee who has worked for the defendant for three years, to $40, for an employee who has worked there for more than 26 years. The defendant, according to the court’s opinion, uses an automated timekeeping system that pays employees for the time they are clocked in, minus a 30-minute meal break. The plaintiffs allege that the system fails to account for time spent working before a shift begins or after it ends, even if an employee clocks in early or clocks out late, and fails to account for time periods when the defendant allegedly requires employees to work through meal periods.
Class certification requires plaintiffs to establish four elements: “numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy.” Ferreras, opinion at 4; Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a). The court held that the plaintiffs met these requirements for several subclasses consisting of “hourly-paid employees who allegedly were not compensated for all of the time that they actually worked.” Ferreras at 17.
If you are dealing with a dispute with an employer in New Jersey or New York, the wage law attorneys at the Resnick Law Group are available to help you. Contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and knowledgeable team.
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U.S. Department of Labor Issues New Rules Regarding When FLSA Covers Interns in New Jersey, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, February 23, 2018
New Jersey Lawsuits Allege Failure to Pay Overtime Wages, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, December 8, 2017