Resolving Your Unpaid Overtime Case Via Mediation or Other Forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution

Once you find yourself involved in a federal Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit (whether as a plaintiff or a defendant,) you might imagine an elaborate litigation process with an intensely contested trial. Sometimes, that is what happens. Other times, different methods of resolution (that are frequently less involved and less expensive) may represent a more advantageous way to conclude a dispute. A skilled Atlanta wage-and-hour lawyer can be essential in helping you get a fair and just outcome – through litigation when necessary and through other means when that approach better serves your needs.

Many workers and/or employers may not fully understand how mediating an FLSA case works. A recent unpaid overtime case from the federal Southern District of Georgia court provides a useful background in walking through the process.

The Augusta-based employer allegedly violated the FLSA by improperly failing to pay one of its employees, P.J., overtime compensation and retaliating against him for complaining.

In October 2023, the court set the case for mediation. In that order, the judge expounded what the parties should expect and what they needed to do to make the process worthwhile.

The federal rules give parties some leeway regarding how they conduct a mediation. For example, the parties could meet in person or online based on their “individual schedules and preferences.” Some things, though, are not negotiable, with the court reminding each party that they must ensure that a “party representative with full settlement authority” participates.

Additionally, FLSA cases often involve employers and/or executive officers of an employer – and those companies and officers frequently have insurance coverage. When that’s true, as the court reminded the parties, the mediation must include a representative from the insurer involved. Like the party representatives, the insurer’s representative must have the full authority to enter into a settlement.

All Sides Must Do Their ‘Homework’ to Make Mediation a Success

The judge also reminded the parties that mediations are “often unproductive unless the parties have exchanged demands and offers before the conference and have made a serious effort to settle the case on their own.” The court instructed the parties to negotiate and make a good-faith effort to settle before the Dec. 12 mediation date arrived.

The court requires you to divulge some of your internal analysis as part of the pre-conference process. Specifically, in the Augusta case, the parties were instructed to email the court a “concise” list of the evidence they planned to use at trial, as well as an “analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the case,” and an “outline the settlement negotiations to date.” (That info is kept confidential and not shared with the opposing parties.)

In this case, the parties participated in good faith and reached a settlement at their mediation conference.

After the Handshakes are Exchanged…

This is not the end. You must clear several more hurdles once you’ve had a successful mediation. One party (or the parties jointly) must ask the court to approve the settlement. One party (or the parties jointly) must then ask the court to dismiss the case.

Court approval is not automatic. In fact, in the Augusta case, the judge issued an order late last month rejecting the parties’ joint motion for approval of their settlement. The problem, according to the judge, was not the settlement’s terms but the parties’ written agreement. Almost all settlement agreements contain a provision that “releases” the parties from future lawsuits that would seek to litigate the same alleged violation using the same claims and theories. In this case, the judge determined that the release terms in the agreement were overly broad, which likely means that the language was not sufficiently precise to prevent the possibility that a party (most likely, the worker,) would be wrongfully barred from pursuing a legitimately separate case against the employer based on the release’s excessive breadth.

Presumably, once the parties make the necessary changes to the agreement, the court will approve and the case will end.

At the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert, our team of knowledgeable Atlanta wage and hour lawyers has a wealth of experience dealing with unpaid overtime, minimum wage, misclassifications… and more. With that experience comes professional discernment regarding which cases require litigation to a judgment, and which clients might be better served via an outcome achieved through alternative dispute resolution. Whether you’re an employer or a worker, we can help. Get started today by contacting us at 404-873-8048 or through this website to schedule a consultation.

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