Last week, while most of us were focused on the events in Boston, the U.S. Supreme Court came down with a notable decision last week involving a wage & hour class action (it’s actually called a “collective” action, but for the non-lawyers out there, just think of it as a class action) and what should happen when a class representative fails to accept an offer to compromise by the employer that would have made the plaintiff “whole”. 

U.S. Supreme Court

Before you get too excited, its worth noting to the human resources professional out there that it’s hard to see how this case is going to change the day-to-day advice you are giving.  This Supreme Court’s decision is one only a lawyer could love.

But the case is important for employers and lawyers, because it provides another tool to use in defending against wage & hour claims. 

Indeed, combined with the court’s recent decisions limiting class actions (see Comcast Corp v. Behrand case) and enforcing arbitration provisions (see AT&T v. Concepcion line of cases), it demonstrates how the court system is grappling with an increasing number of wage & hour claims that threaten to overwhelm the system.

The Symczyk case has been neatly recapped in the Employment Class Action blog here:

The plaintiff brought FLSA claims challenging the employer’s use of an “auto-deduct” policy for meal periods. Along with its answer, the defendant made a Rule 68 offer to the plaintiff of judgment for $7,500, plus attorney fees and costs to be determined by the court….

When the plaintiff did not respond to the offer, the defendant moved to dismiss the case. The district court dismissed the FLSA claims on the basis of Rule 68 and remanded the remaining state law claims….

 The Supreme Court … found that the district court had correctly dismissed the case. Because the plaintiff did not contest that her own personal claim would have been satisfied by the offer, the majority assumed that it did, indeed, moot her individual claim. .

Ultimately, the Court held that an offer of judgment under Rule 68 that satisfies the representative plaintiff’s claims moots a potential collective action under the FLSA. Continue Reading Offers of Judgment in FLSA Collective Actions: Another Tool for Wage & Hour Claims

Supreme Court

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

Not all employment law cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court matter are of equal significance and importance to employers.

What? How can that be, you say? It’s the SUPREME COURT!  Isn’t everything that they say important?

Well, sort of.

The truth is that sometimes the court decides thick procedural issues disguised as an employment law case.  But from a practical matter, how the court rules in these cases probably isn’t going to affect how most employers run their businesses. 

One case that is likely to be decided this year in just such a fashion is Genesis Healthcare Corp v. Symczyk, which was argued earlier this month.   Jon Hyman, over at the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, sums up the principle at issue here:

Let’s say an employee sues you, claiming that you withheld certain wages owed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition to defending the lawsuit, you make her what is called an “offer of judgment” to make her whole for all wages she claims she is owed (including any liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees). Does the offer render her lawsuit—that she not only brought on her own behalf, but also sought on behalf of a class of similarly situated co-workers—moot? Alternatively, does the fact that she sought relief on behalf of others keep her lawsuit alive, despite the fact that she no longer has any personal skin in the game? 

I have a difficult time believing this case is going to impact more than just a few wage & hour cases.  Most employment law cases never get an offer of judgment made on them and typically involve more than one person.  While it may impact the tactics in class actions, the overwhelming majority of employers will never have to deal with a class action ever.

Put another way, this case is not likely to have any impact on how employers manage their workforce on a day-to-day basis.

So, if you like reading about the U.S. Supreme Court and the intracacies of procedures, this case should be right up your alley. For most employers though, it’s a reminder that not all employment law cases are of equal importance.