Tag Archives: Wage and Hour Law

Are the FLSA’s Enterprise Coverage Requirements Outdated in Today’s Economy?

In his recent article, “Taking the Employer Out of Employment Law? Accountability for Wage and Hour Violations in an Age of Enterprise Disaggregation,” Professor, Timothy P. Glynn of Seton Hall School of Law makes a compelling argument that the answer is yes.

In the abstract to his article, Professor Glynn explains:

“Violations of wage and hour mandates are widespread at the low end of the labor market. The disaggregation of business enterprises into smaller, independent parts has been an important factor in this growing problem. Limitations on liability for work-law violations invite such arrangements since statutory protections for workers usually impose duties only on “employers.” That status, in turn, hinges on the level of control a firm exercises over the work, and when exacting control is not necessary, firms usually can avoid accountability by shifting work to independent third-party suppliers. This creates severe enforcement obstacles: detection becomes difficult, labor suppliers often are undercapitalized, and coverage uncertainties lead to unprosecuted claims and discounted settlements. Thus, disaggregation does far more than shift legal responsibility from one entity to another: it allows end-user firms to avoid noncompliance risks while benefiting from labor at a price discounted by the unlikelihood of enforcement.”

Thus, Professor Glynn proposes “eliminating the ‘employer’ coverage barrier altogether.”  Under his approach, “commercial actors would be held strictly liable for wage and hour violations in the production of any goods and services they purchase, sell, or distribute, whether directly or through intermediaries. The only limitation is that a firm’s liability would not exceed the proportion of the violations attributable to the goods or services it purchases, sells, or distributes.”

Adopting this less restrictive coverage requirement would lead to easier enforcement of wage and hour laws and thus, fewer abuses at the low end of the labor market.  It doesn’t appear that there’s any push to adopt these logical changes which would no doubt further the remedial goals of wage and hour laws, but it’s a refreshing perspective nonetheless.  In this day and age, Professor Glynn’s recognition that a modern fractured economy is far different than the economy of the past, with fewer larger actors, is largely unaddressed by wage and hour laws that are currently on the books.

Click Abstract to read more on Professor Glynn’s work.

Thanks to the Workplace Prof Blog for bringing this to our attention.

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Florida Sued For Failing To Raise Minimum Wage, In Accordance With The Florida Constitution, Miami Herald Reports

The Miami Herald reports that:

“Two legal groups sued Florida’s labor agency Monday, claiming the state failed to raise the state’s minimum wage by six cents per hour this year to keep up with inflation.

The lawsuit claimed the Agency for Workforce Innovation violated the Florida Constitution by keeping it at the $7.25 federal rate, where it was last year, instead of raising it to $7.31 on Jan. 1.

About 188,000 minimum wage workers could be effected. At stake is up to $128 this year for a full-time employee working a 40-hour week. If all those the minimum-wage employees worked 40-hour weeks the extra six cents would add up to $15 million.”

Go to the Miami Herald to read the entire story.

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Arbitrator Rules That Massachusetts Trial Court System Must Pay Workers $30 Million In Retroactive Pay Increases, Boston Herald Reports

The Boston Herald is reporting that an Arbitrator has ruled that Massachusetts’ Trial Court system must pay its clerical workers $30 million in unpaid pay increases.

“In what is being called the costliest settlement of its type in state history, the financially strapped Trial Court system must shell out $30 million in back wages to thousands of unionized clerical workers, the Herald has learned.

In a decision reached May 7, an arbitrator ruled that the Trial Court broke its contract with Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 6, by refusing to pay the negotiated 3 percent pay raises since 2007…

In addition to the $30 million in back pay, the Trial Court must find $17 million in unfunded raises for the union employees for the next budget year, starting in July, said Superior Court Justice Peter W. Agnes Jr., president of the Massachusetts Judges Conference.”

To read the entire article click here.

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Wal-Mart Settles Wage And Hour Lawsuit For Up To $86 Million, Reuters Reports

Reuters is reporting that Wal-Mart has agreed to pay up to $86 Million to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing it of failing to pay vacation, overtime and other wages to thousands of former workers in California.

According to Reuters, “[a]bout 232,000 people will share in the settlement, which was disclosed on Tuesday in a federal court filing.

It requires a minimum payout of $43 million, and “far exceeds other recent settlements” involving Wal-Mart, the filing shows. The accord requires court approval.”

To read the entire story click here.

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E.D.Va.: Applicant For A Job May Not Assert An Action For FLSA Retaliation, Because Not A Covered “Employee” Of The Potential Employer

Dellinger v. Science Applications Intern. Corp.

This case was before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant.  Plaintiff alleged that Defendant violated the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) codified at 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), by refusing to hire her after they received notice that she had filed a separate FLSA action against a former employer.  Defendant moved to dismiss on the basis that Plaintiff was never an “employee” of Defendant, and the Court granted Defendant’s Motion on this basis.

The Court reasoned:

“In a statutory construction case, the beginning point must be the language of the statute, and when a statute speaks with clarity to an issue [,] judicial inquiry into the statute’s meaning, in all but the most extraordinary circumstance, is finished.” Ramey v. Director, office of Workers’ Compensation Program, 326 F.3d 474, 476 (4th Cir.2003)(citing Estate of Cowart v. Nicklos Drilling Co. ., 505 U.S. 469, 475, 112 S.Ct. 2589, 120 L.Ed.2d 379 (1992)). The statute at issue here, 29 U.S.C. § 215 states, in pertinent part:

(a) [I]t shall be unlawful for any person …

(3) to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter …

29 U.S.C. § 215 (emphasis added). Congress chose to define “employee” as “any individual employed by an employer.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(e)(1). For an individual to be “employed” by an “employer” they must be “suffer[ed] or permitt[ed] to work.” 29 U.S.C. § 203(g). Here, Plaintiff was never “permitted” to work for SAIC, in fact, her main allegation is that the offer of employment was withdrawn. (See Compl. ¶ 34.).

The two district courts that have addressed this issue have found that a job applicant should not be considered an “employee” for purposes of the anti-retaliation provision of the FLSA. In Harper v. San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center, an applicant for a nursing position at defendant hospital was involved in an unrelated federal wage claim suit against several municipalities. Harper, 848 F.Supp. 911 (D.Colo.1994). The hospital hired several allegedly less qualified individuals over plaintiff Harper and Harper filed suit alleging FLSA retaliation. In reaching its decision the Court specifically relied on the plain language of the statute, noting that “where a statute names parties who come within its provisions, other unnamed parties are excluded.” Id. at 913-914 (D.Colo.1994) (citing Foxgord v. Hischemoeller, 820 F.2d 1030, 1035, cert. denied, 484 U.S. 986, 108 S.Ct. 503, 98 L.Ed.2d 502, (9th Cir.1987); See Contract Courier Services, Inc. v. Research and Special Programs Admin. of U.S. Depart. of Transp., 924 F.2d 112, 114 (7th Cir.1991)(holding “statutory words mean nothing unless they distinguish one situation from another; line-drawing is the business of language”). The Court in Harper held that § 215(a)(3) “specifically identifies those individuals who come within its provisions i.e. employees. Therefore, other unnamed parties such as non-employee job applicants are excluded from its protection.” Harper, 848 F.Supp. at 914.

In the similar case of Glover v. City of North Charleston, plaintiff was also the lead plaintiff in a separate FLSA wage and hour suit against the North Charleston (Fire Dept.) District. Glover, 42 F.Supp. 243 (D.S.C.1996). After Glover brought suit against the District, the District Fire Department was disbanded and the City of North Charleston Fire Department was formed; however, the City had discretion to determine which of the District Department’s employees would be hired. Id. at 245. In his suit against the City, Glover alleged a violation of § 215(a)(3) claiming the City’s decision not to hire Glover was retaliation for his earlier FLSA claims. In dismissing the case, the Glover court found that plaintiffs were job applicants and thus not yet “employees” within the meaning of the Act. Id. at 246.

In so doing, the Court drew a careful distinction between § 215‘s initial language holding that it “shall be unlawful for any person ” to commit certain acts (§ 215(a)), and more limited language of the provision at issue here, protecting “any employee ” from the person’s misconduct (§ 215(a)(3)). Id. at 245-246 (emphasis added). The court found that the statute’s application to “any person” did not bar suit against the “non-employer” City, however, the plain language of the statue restricting its protections to “any employee” did mean that a mere job “applicant” did not have standing to bring a § 215 action. Id. As the Glover court found, the first sentence of the statute applies to “any person,” if “Congress wanted to cover non-employees, it could have written § 215(a)(3) to prevent discrimination [or retaliation] against “any person” instead of “any employee.” Id. at 246-247. Based on the plain language of the statute, the courts that have considered the issue have found that § 215(a)(3) does not cover job applicants.

Plaintiff attempts to distinguish these cases as outliers and non-binding on this Court. As decisions from other Districts they are clearly not binding precedent, however, their reasoning is, contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, applicable here. Both opinions rest on the plain language of the statute and both were unwilling to read the term “employee” to mean an individual who was never employed the Defendant.

Defendant points to the leading Fourth case regarding the sufficiency of an anti-retaliation claim under FLSA, Darveau v. Detecon, Inc., 515 F.3d 334 (4th Cir.2008.) In the Fourth Circuit, to assert a prima facie claim of retaliation under the FLSA a plaintiff must show: “that (1) he engaged in an activity protected by the FLSA; (2) he suffered adverse action by the employer subsequent to or contemporaneous with such protected activity; and (3) a causal connection exists between the employee’s activity and the employer’s adverse action.” Darveau v. Detecon, Inc., 515 F.3d 334, 340 (4th Cir.2008) (citing Wolf v. Coca-Cola Co., 200 F.3d 1337, 1342-43 (11th Cir.2000); Conner v. Schnuck Mkts., Inc., 121 F.3d 1390, 1394 (10th Cir.1997)). Similarly, Defendant argues that as the Fourth Circuit standard requires a “casual connection” between the “employee’s activity” and the “employer’s” action, Plaintiff has no standing to bring suit as she was never an “employee.” (Mem. in Supp. Mot. to Dismiss at 4.) Without reading beyond the plain language of the statute, a job applicant cannot be considered an ‘employee.’ “

Although not highlighted here, the Court also rejected several alternative arguments put forth by Plaintiff, that the Court should look beyond the FLSA, to statutory definitions and construction of Title VII and the NLRA statutes.

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Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, New York Times Reports

Today’s NY Times reports that there is a growing trend of employers, who illegally deem workers, entitled to be paid at least minimum wage, to be unpaid “interns.”

The article reports that, “[w]ith job openings scarce for young people, the number of unpaid internships has climbed in recent years, leading federal and state regulators to worry that more employers are illegally using such internships for free labor.

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

Many regulators say that violations are widespread, but that it is unusually hard to mount a major enforcement effort because interns are often afraid to file complaints. Many fear they will become known as troublemakers in their chosen field, endangering their chances with a potential future employer.”

To read the entire article, click here.

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Low-wage Workers Suffer High Rate Of Workplace Abuse and Wage Theft, UCLA Survey Shows

UCLA Today, a periodical covering faculty and staff news at UCLA has released a story summarizing the findings of a recent study conducted by 3 UCLA researchers, that examined the frequency of labor and wage abuses against low-wage workers in the Los Angeles area.  According to the story, “[a]n alarmingly high number of Los Angeles County workers at the bottom of the labor market are the victims of “wage theft” and other workplace violations by employers, who on average deprive workers of 12.5 percent of their weekly paycheck, according to a study released today, Jan. 6, by three researchers with the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UCLA.
 
Approximately 88 percent of those surveyed reported at least one instance of being paid less than the minimum wage, working overtime and not being paid for it, working off-the-clock for free, or other pay-based violation during the previous work week.
 
The results of a 2008 survey of 1,815 workers in the county holding such low-wage jobs as nannies, bank tellers, retail workers, garment workers, janitors and gardeners show that most of these violations are more prevalent in Los Angeles than in New York or Chicago, where similar surveys were done. Detailed, hour-long interviews were conducted with the workers who were asked to describe their previous work week.
 
“This is a wake-up call to the community,” said Professor Ruth Milkman, lead author and a professor of sociology at UCLA and the City University of New York Graduate Center. Ana Luz Gonzalez, a doctoral candidate in urban planning, and Victor Narro, project director at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center and a lecturer in Chicano studies, are co-authors on the study.
 
Most egregious, said researchers, was that 30 percent of those surveyed in L.A. County were being paid less than the legal minimum wage for California, which is $8 an hour.”
                                                                                                                                                                                        To read the entire report click here.  To read the UCLA Today news story  click here.   

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Tyson Foods Found In Violation Of Fair Labor Standards Act In Donning And Doffing Suit, Reuters Reports

Reuters is reporting that “Tyson Foods Inc., one of the nation’s largest poultry producers, has been found in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) at its Blountsville, Ala., facility.  The jury’s verdict in federal court in Birmingham resulted from a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor against the company…

The Department of Labor’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.  The federal department alleged that Tyson Foods did not keep accurate records and failed to pay production line employees for the time they spend donning and doffing safety and sanitary gear, and performing other related work activities.  The violations cover the period from the year 2000 to the present and affect approximately 3,000 current and former workers at the plant.

The initial investigation began in April 2000 as part of the department’s Wage and Hour Division’s poultry enforcement initiative.  The Labor Department filed the district court complaint in May 2002 following the company’s failure to comply with the law and to pay back wages.  The first jury trial, which began in February 2009, ended in a mistrial.  The Labor Department chose to pursue a second trial in August 2009 to secure a ruling that Tyson was failing to compensate its employees lawfully.”

To read the full story go to Reuters’ website.

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6 Construction Companies Accused Of Using Race-based Pay Scale: Whites At Top, Latinos Rock Bottom, Daily News Reports

The Daily News is reporting that, “[s]ix construction companies are accused in a new state lawsuit of paying their employees according to their race – with whites at the top and Latinos at the bottom.

The suit filed by [New York] state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Thursday says the companies cheated lower-paid minority workers out of $4 million in wages and overtime.

All six firms are controlled by Michael Mahoney, a contractor exposed by the Daily News last year after workers said his companies provided them with black market federal safety certificates.

Mahoney’s companies paid white workers an average hourly rate of $25, while paying African-Americans $18 and Latinos and Brazilians only $15 an hour for the same work, the suit charges.

Since 2002, the companies short-changed dozens of employes at at least 10 construction sites, Cuomo charged.

Some workers were cheated of as much as $600 a month, according to Cuomo.”

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$7.6 Million Judgment For Louisville Firefighters Upheld On Appeal, Courier-Journal Reports

Friday’s Courier-Journal reports that Louisville “[f]irefighters came another step closer in their quest to get back pay from Louisville Metro Government for 15 years in which they claim their overtime was miscalculated.

On Friday, the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld a Jefferson Circuit Court ruling that says Louisville violated the firefighters’ contract by not including incentive and longevity pay in calculations for overtime pay. The ruling entitles more than 800 firefighters to pay going back 15 years from when the claim was filed in 2000.

The ruling could cost the city $7.6 million plus interest.”

To read the entire article go to the Courier-Journal website.

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