A New Jersey federal judge approved a settlement in a lawsuit brought by Essex County corrections officers, alleging underpayment of overtime. Davis, et al. v. Essex County, No. 2:14-cv-01122, opinion (D.N.J., Dec. 1, 2015). The plaintiffs asserted causes of action under both the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.; and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (NJWHL), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a et seq. They brought suit on behalf of themselves and other employees with similar claims, as allowed by the FLSA. The parties eventually came to an agreement regarding unpaid wages, liquidated damages, costs, and attorney’s fees. The court reviewed the settlement to ensure that it satisfied the FLSA’s requirements regarding collective actions. It certified a class of plaintiffs and approved a settlement totaling $300,000.
Both the FLSA and the NJWHL require employers to pay overtime compensation to certain employees. This generally applies to hourly workers who do not hold a managerial or executive position. An employer must pay a rate of time-and-a-half for any time worked more than 40 hours during a calendar week. See 29 U.S.C. § 207, N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:11-56a4. A common example of an overtime claim involves an employer who requires employees to perform certain tasks while they are “off the clock,” such as changing into or out of uniform. Since this task is mandatory, it is legally considered part of the employee’s job. If it pushes the amount of time spent at work over 40 hours in a week, the employee is entitled to overtime pay.
An employee can collect unpaid overtime, court costs, and other damages under the FLSA and the NJWHL. Individual employees may not have a large enough claim for a lawsuit to be feasible, which is where a type of lawsuit known as a collective action comes into play. Much as in a class action, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 23, one or more plaintiffs can sue on behalf of a class of individuals who are in similar situations and have similar legal claims. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). An employee who might be owed thousands of dollars in overtime pay is more likely to get the employer’s attention if the lawsuit includes hundreds or thousands of their co-workers. Plaintiffs must consent to be part of a collective action under the FLSA, while many class actions require class members to “opt out.”
The two lead plaintiffs in Davis worked as corrections officers at the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center. They filed suit under the FLSA and the NJWHL for unpaid overtime in 2014, and they identified a class of plaintiffs who also worked at that facility on or after February 11, 2011. Sixty additional people consented to join the litigation.
The parties filed a joint motion to approve their settlement in September 2015. In a written opinion, the court found that the settlement agreement satisfied the three-part analysis required by the FLSA:
1. The settlement must “concern a bona fide dispute”;
2. It must be “fair and reasonable to the Plaintiff-employee”; and
3. It must “not frustrate the implementation of the FLSA in the workplace.” Davis, opinion at 4.
If you need to speak to a wage law attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.
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More than $7 Million in Back Pay Owed to New Jersey Workers from Federal Wage and Hour Law Enforcement Remains Unclaimed, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 11, 2015
New York Pizza Franchises Incur Judgments, Fines for Minimum Wage and Overtime Violations, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, May 15, 2015
Former Nanny Files FLSA Lawsuit Against Singer, Claiming $100,000 in Unpaid Overtime, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, April 30, 2015