11th Circuit Allows Employees to Bring FLSA Collective Action and State Class Action in One Case

A recent ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is an important one for Georgia employers and employees to note, since it may affect some potential minimum wage and overtime cases. In the new decision, the 11th Circuit decided that it would join numerous other circuits in concluding that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not prohibit employees from bringing a case that contains within it both a FLSA collective action and a state-law class action.

The employees who brought the case, Kevin Calderone, George Schwing, Michael Zaleski, and Selena Lee, were sheriff’s department employees working for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department in Fort Myers, Florida. The deputies accused their employer of violating the FLSA by failing to pay them for “off the clock” work that they performed. Specifically, the employer required the employees to complete certain tasks before they clocked in, such as putting on special equipment and being prepared for duty 30 minutes before their shifts started. When all of these required but off-the-clock responsibilities were factored in, the employees ended up working more than 40 hours per week.

This alleged failure to pay the employees for their off-the-clock work violated the minimum wage and overtime rules of the FLSA. They also claimed that the employer’s actions violated the Florida Minimum Wage Act. Based upon these alleged statutory violations, the employees launched a case that was, at once, a collective action that stated a claim under Section 216(b) of the FLSA and also a class action lawsuit in which the central claim was the employer’s violation of the state statute.

The employer challenged this action, and the federal trial court ruled against the employees. The employees’ pair of claims were “mutually exclusive and irreconcilable,” the court stated in allowing them to go forward on their FLSA case but not their Florida law-based one. The employees appealed that ruling, and they won. The employees’ approach in this case was not something completely brand new. Courts in other locations had addressed similar situations, with the Second, Third, Seventh, Ninth, and D.C. Circuit federal appeals courts all deciding, as the 11th Circuit did in this case, that the law did allow employees to go forward with both actions.

“An FLSA collective action and a … class action may be fundamentally different creatures, but they are not ‘irreconcilable,'” the appeals court’s opinion clearly stated. There was nothing in the FLSA’s text that barred employees from going forward with both a FLSA collective action and a state-law class action. Specifically, the court looked at language in the FLSA that said that no “provision of this chapter . . . shall excuse noncompliance with any Federal or State law or municipal ordinance” creating a more stringent regimen. If Congress had intended to prohibit state actions like these deputies’ Minimum Wage Act claim, it would not have written this provision into the law.

The 11th Circuit’s ruling in this case demonstrates that, in some situations, the law creates multiple different avenues and options for you, as an employee, to recover compensation for employment law violations. Even when the statutory law doesn’t change, new case decisions may affect your rights under a statute like the FLSA. An experienced employment attorney can take the facts of your case, apply them to the law, and give you all of the choices available for you to get the most out of your case. The diligent and determined Georgia wage violation attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have dealt with many minimum wage and overtime cases, and we have the skills to help you with yours.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.

More blog posts:

Georgia Employer Allowed to Keep Some of Employees’ Tips as Long as Employees Received Minimum Wage, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Sept. 14, 2016

Georgia Exotic Dancer Launches New FLSA Lawsuit Against Athens Club, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Jan. 13, 2016

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