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gas signA recent unpaid overtime case originating in Tennessee placed into conflict two competing legal concepts:  an employee’s right to pursue collective action litigation under the Fair Labor Standards Act and an employer’s right to obtain employees’ waiver of their right to sue under the terms of contractual arbitration agreements. This case highlights some of the complexities that can arise in FLSA cases and the importance of retaining skilled Tennessee employment counsel, who can help guide you through the sometimes complicated process of navigating the procedural pathways required in taking on your case.

The lead plaintiff in this collective action case was a woman named Arvion. Arvion worked for two years as an hourly employee for a national chain of truck stops. Arvion’s case, like many unpaid overtime actions, involved allegations that the employer altered her time sheets to reduce the number of reported hours she had worked in a week, thereby dodging its obligation to pay her overtime. Furthermore, she alleged that the employer rolled back the number of reported hours of its hourly employees (in order to avoid paying overtime) as a matter of policy at locations across the country.

FLSA collective actions operate somewhat similarly to class actions. A lead plaintiff brings the case, identifies a group of employees who were harmed, and then contacts all of the members of that group to give them the opportunity to “opt in” to the collective action. (FLSA collective actions differ from class actions in that, unlike class actions in which class members must proactively opt out of the class action case, members of the group of similarly situated employees must proactively opt in to a collective action.)

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Medical SchoolAbraham Lincoln reputedly said that “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The central thrust of this statement is that cases in which a party represents herself almost always end poorly for that person. This is especially true for non-lawyers who represent themselves. The law, especially employment law, is full of specifics, details, and requirements that even an intelligent and knowledgeable non-lawyer couldn’t reasonably be expected to know. That’s why it is almost always the right move to retain experienced Georgia employment counsel to represent you in your discrimination case.

A cautionary example of this point was the case of Wen, a professor at the medical school of a major private university in Florida. Wen’s time at the med school did not go as she had planned. She started with a tenure-track position in 2007 but, by 2011, having been deemed by the faculty to be making insufficient progress toward tenure, switched to a research track. That didn’t help, so the faculty voted in October 2011 not to renew Wen, and her employment terminated in October 2012.

The professor sued the school, arguing that it was liable for racial discrimination and retaliation. Ultimately, she lost on all of her claims. In many ways, her case was beset by procedural problems, which offer a lesson about the problems that can befall a plaintiff who attempts to represent herself. (The docket in Wen’s case showed she initially had an attorney in the District Court, but, by the time that court ruled in 2015, she was self-represented.)

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calculatorA law student once joked with his law professor, who was discussing a topic that involved math skills, by interjecting, “Excuse me, sir. I must object. I was told there’d be no math (in law school).” While perhaps a good source of humor after a long day of legal studies, it’s actually not true. Many lawyers are very adept at math, including your Georgia wage-and-hour attorney. Compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act means understanding many things, including some math. It also means knowing which mathematical calculation methods for determining compliance with minimum wage and overtime rules are allowed by the law, and which aren’t. In the case of a salesman who received commissions, the law required allocating his commissions to the month when he earned them, rather than just doing a calculation that averaged the salesman’s commissions across his entire 12-month period of employment.

The employee was a salesman who sold cruises for a cruise company. He held that job from December 2013 to December 2014. The job paid $500 per week plus monthly commissions. During his 12½ months of employment, the salesman earned roughly $70,000. While there were some months in which the salesman made as much as $11,000, there were others in which he made only $2,000.

He worked, on average, approximately 60 hours per week. The salesman sued his employer for violating the FLSA. The employer, the salesman contended, owed him overtime pay that it had not paid him. The employer, on the other hand, argued that the salesman was an exempt employee and, as a result, didn’t qualify under federal law to receive overtime pay.

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Police SergeantFor employers, one of the challenges with which they must deal is creating and following a process for making new hire and promotion decisions. The need to appear impartial and fair may lead an employer to create a metric that is standardized and objective. The key, though, is that, once an employer creates such a system, it becomes important to follow that system or, if deviating from those results, to document a clear reason why. If your employer doesn’t do this, these facts may actually work to strengthen your Georgia employment discrimination case, according to a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

In the case recently decided by the 11th Circuit, a white sheriff’s deputy was pursuing a promotion to sergeant within the Broward County, Florida Sheriff’s Office. In 2012, the deputy took the sergeant’s exam, a tool for assessing promotion candidates that included “a multiple-choice test, a structural interview, and an oral presentation.”

Although the department made 30 promotions, and the deputy finished 20th on the exam, he did not receive a promotion. He had the second-highest exam score among those not promoted. By contrast, the 47th- and 50th-highest scoring candidates did receive promotions to sergeant. Both of those candidates were African-American.

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farmerA recent employment law ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has created quite a bit of buzz among legal observers. In that case, the Ninth Circuit decided that the Fair Labor Standards Act’s prohibitions against retaliation were broad enough to allow a dairy worker to sue his employer’s outside attorney for contacting immigration enforcement and notifying them about the employee’s undocumented status.

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tip jarIn an important recent ruling, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the decision of an Atlanta-based federal District Court, denying an employee the opportunity to pursue a class action against her employer for keeping some of the employees’ tips. The key to the employer’s victory in both courts was the limitations on private lawsuits contained in the Fair Labor Standards Act’s language. Since that law only allowed private lawsuits in cases of unpaid overtime or failure to meet the minimum wage, neither of which occurred in this case, the employee had no legal right to pursue a private class action.

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work time clockAs an employer, there are many human resources-related tasks with which you must concern yourself. Some of these might seem like less significant items, but even these “small” details can have great importance in certain situations. One example is maintaining updated, detailed, and complete job descriptions. While this might seem like a relatively minor thing, it was the key to success for one Ohio employer in a disability discrimination case one of its employees launched recently.

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harassmentThe case of gross misbehavior going on at a West Tennessee auto parts store contained some unusual facts. All of the sides agreed that the conduct of the alleged harasser, who was also the store manager, was “repulsive.” Everyone agreed “that he got what he deserved when” the employer fired him shortly after its investigation. What wasn’t clear was whether the store manager held a role within the employer’s organization with enough power such that the employer could be liable for his harassing conduct. Ultimately, the courts decided that the employer was not liable in this case because of the limited authority the store manager actually held.

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judge with gavelAlmost 23 years ago, two Hollywood A-list actors, Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, starred in a dramatic film called “Disclosure.” The issue of workplace sexual harassment –- specifically, quid pro quo harassment –- was a key plot point in the film. In the movie, the female boss (Moore’s character) engaged in quid pro quo harassment of her male subordinate employee (Douglas’ character).

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nurses' stationA considerable variety of employment law cases, especially when the employee’s claims relate to discrimination or retaliation, can succeed or fail based upon which side (employee or employer) presents a stronger case about whether the employer’s adverse action was legitimate or merely a pretext for engaging in illegal conduct. Many times, this may boil down to other employees working for the same employer and whether or not they qualify as “similarly situated” in relation to the employee who has sued. The case of a nurse from Florida allegedly fired for sleeping on the job offers a real-life example of this.

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