Claim Preclusion and the Impact It Potentially Can Have on Your Unpaid Overtime Lawsuit in Georgia

Having the right Atlanta unpaid overtime lawyer on your side can be priceless. In addition to all of the things your attorney will do, he/she may also provide incalculable value in the mistakes that he/she helps you avoid.

There are actually multiple ways that you can steer your case badly. One way is by taking action, but then taking the wrong action.

Although not from Georgia, a driver’s recent unpaid overtime case is a good example. Two months after leaving her job with a transportation services company, the driver sued. Her lawsuit stated that she was seeking compensation for “monies arising out of nonpayment of wages.”

The good news for the driver was that she won. The not-so-good news was that she was in small claims court and the totality of her recovery was $1,020.

A few weeks later, the driver brought a federal suit, alleging that the employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by improperly failing to pay her time-and-a-half for the hours she worked in excess of 40 hours each week. In her federal unpaid overtime lawsuit, she sought “an award of unpaid wages, liquidated damages, interest, costs, and attorneys’ fees.”

Pursuing an award of liquidated damages is an important part of an FLSA overtime case, as that allows you to recover, in addition to the pay you were improperly denied, a damages amount equal to the money you should have received but didn’t. In other words, an award of unpaid wages and liquidated damages will net you double the money you were improperly denied.

Unfortunately for this driver, she had a major problem. That roadblock was the previous small claims court action. Because the courts decided that the small claims lawsuit had the same “legal effect” as any other type of state court civil action, that meant that the rule of claim preclusion applied and required dismissal of her FLSA lawsuit. (Claim preclusion is a legal concept that generally says that, once you’ve obtained a judgment on the merits on a particular claim, you are not allowed to re-litigate that same claim in a subsequent action in a different trial court.)

This driver’s defeat is a very important cautionary tale about proceeding carefully and with the right legal representation from the very start. The right legal team perhaps could have steered the driver away from small claims court and instead toward bringing an unpaid overtime action under the FLSA.

C.S. lived — and litigated — in New York, but the rules of claim preclusion in Georgia are very similar to those in New York, meaning that, if you pursued a small claims action here, you could have a similar legal roadblock if you later wanted to file an FLSA claim.

Not All Claims Will Be Precluded

There are situations where the rules of claim preclusion don’t apply, though. For example, a few years ago, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings directly control federal cases filed in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama,) allowed a worker to pursue two separate lawsuits. The worker initially sued for unpaid overtime. Eight months later, the worker allegedly suffered an adverse action that was triggered by the FLSA lawsuit. As a result, the worker filed a second action — this one for impermissible retaliation.

The court ultimately ruled that, even though the worker agreed to a settlement of the overtime case, the retaliation case could go forward. The retaliation claim was something that arose “after the original pleading [was] filed in the earlier litigation and is not barred unless” asserted in the first lawsuit, which this retaliation claim was not.

For the wise advice and the diligent advocacy your case deserves,  get in touch with the Atlanta unpaid overtime attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our firm has a long track record of helping workers pursue their rights, and we’re ready to get starting assisting you. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation regarding your situation.

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