Third Circuit Clarifies Required Contents of FLSA Unpaid Overtime Claims
On August 26, 2014, the Third Circuit handed down a decision affirming a district court dismissal of a suit brought by a group of nurses and other medical professionals against their respective employers in the medical field for systemic underpayment. The plaintiffs claimed that the employers violated their rights under the FLSA in three ways: (1) by automatically deducting a half hour’s pay for each shift worked over six hours, regardless of whether or not the employee actually took the meal break; (2) not paying employees for time spent working before or after the employee’s scheduled shift; and (3) no payment of wages for training to which Plaintiffs’ believed they were entitled. The decision was only based on the Fair Labor Standards Act as the court had refused to extend supplemental jurisdiction over the Pennsylvania Law claims.
The main issue in this case was whether or not the plaintiffs had pleaded their FLSA overtime violation claims with sufficient specificity. FLSA claims are important as liquidated damages can be significant under the law. Circuits are split on how specific complaints must be when pleading FLSA violations. The stricter approach is to require the plaintiff to allege approximately the number of hours worked for which wages were not received. These courts have not found a violation of the law when it is only alleged that the plaintiffs “regularly” worked over forty hours per week. The more lenient approached used by other circuits does not require that the total amount of hours worked be pleaded, but only that the plaintiff worked more than forty hours in a week and was not compensated for the overtime.
The Third Circuit decided to take the middle ground with the Second Circuit’s approach, which requires that the plaintiff plead that he or she worked forty hours in a given workweek and uncompensated time in excess of the forty hours. The court held that stating that someone “typically” worked more than forty hours a week was not sufficient to state a claim. The court did mentioned that it was not requiring future plaintiffs to state the exact dates and times of the extra hours worked.
The court also ruled against plaintiff in the “gap time” claims. It found that the FLSA covers only unpaid overtime wages and wages paid that do not exceed the minimum wage. The plaintiffs had claims for hours worked for which they were not compensated, but which did not make their work weeks extend past forty hours. It is important to remember that these plaintiffs may not be totally unable to recover, as they may have claims under Pennsylvania’s Wage Payment and Collection Law.