When Tolling Will — and Won’t — Save an Unpaid Overtime Case Filed After the FLSA’s Statute of Limitations Has Elapsed

It’s highly important to recognize all of the procedural demands involved in unpaid overtime cases. This is critical both from the perspective of ensuring that you’ve done everything the rules mandate and also from the perspective of taking proper steps to strengthen your position when the opposing side fails to meet its procedural obligations. Whether you’re a worker pursuing a claim or an employer defending against one, an Atlanta unpaid overtime lawyer can help you in all of these regards.

One of the more basic procedural hurdles is the statute of limitations. When it comes to unpaid overtime claims brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act, federal law says the worker generally must do so within two years.

That statute of limitations was at the center of one recent unpaid overtime case upon which the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose decisions directly control federal cases in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama) ruled.

The dispute originally involved three employees of a trash and recycling collection company. One of the drivers worked in Florida, one in North Carolina, and one in South Carolina. The workers filed their original complaint in federal court in South Carolina in October 2017.

The Florida driver had a problem, though. Each of the workers was actually the employee of a state-specific subsidiary of the parent entity, which itself was headquartered in Florida. That opened the door for the defense legal team, on behalf of the parent and Florida subsidiary, to argue successfully that, because all three of the driver, the parent entity, and the Florida subsidiary were Florida residents, the federal court in South Carolina lacked jurisdiction to decide the Florida driver’s FLSA claims.

The judge dismissed the Florida worker’s case in July 2019. One month later, he filed a new federal lawsuit in Florida.

Now, the driver had a new problem. His employment with the trash company ended in November 2015, meaning that his August 2019 lawsuit filing came more than a year and a half after the limitations period expired.

Tolling and the Statute of Limitations

The only way that the driver’s filing could have been timely — and not subject to dismissal under the statute of limitations — would have been if “tolling” applied to his case. Tolling is a legal principle that says that, under specific circumstances, the running of a statutory limitations period may be suspended. The Florida driver argued that the limitations period should have been deemed suspended during the time in which he was a plaintiff in the South Carolina case. The court explained that, for purposes of analyzing timeliness under a statute of limitations, that didn’t work because the law generally treats a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed without prejudice (which is what happened to the Florida driver’s South Carolina case) as if the worker had never filed it.

The court furthermore noted that the Florida driver had “alternate ways of preserving his cause of action short of invoking the doctrine of equitable tolling.” The judges pointed out that the worker could have taken further action in the South Carolina case, such as filing “a motion for reconsideration of or for relief from the dismissal order” to argue that transfer, as opposed to dismissal, “was in the interest of justice.” Because he didn’t, he lacked the proof of “diligence” necessary to invoke tolling.

Even the best collection of factual evidence potentially won’t help you in your unpaid overtime case if you’re not abiding by the rules of court procedure. Whether it’s ensuring procedural compliance, amassing the evidence necessary to survive summary judgment, or preparing a case for trial, the knowledgeable Atlanta unpaid overtime attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert have the skills and experience necessary to protect your interests thoroughly and effectively. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today.

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