Good news for employers: If an employee files an overtime claim with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) under the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law (WPCL) and the department settles the case and collects wages for the employee, the employee can't turn around and also sue under the .
The key is in the agreement brokered by the L&I. Typically, it includes the employee’s waiver of FLSA claims.
That’s perfectly legal, according to the federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Recent case: Frances Lignore worked for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) as an administrative assistant. She claimed her supervisor propositioned her and made her work through lunch and breaks without pay as punishment for rejecting those advances.
Lignore called the L&I to complain about working without pay and the agency launched an investigation. It concluded HUP owed Lignore about $1,300, prepared a settlement and forwarded a check to her. She signed the settlement (which mentioned she was giving up rights under both the WPCL and the FLSA) and cashed the check.
Lignore then sued in federal court, claiming HUP was still liable for FLSA violations. But the court tossed out her case. It reasoned that employees who settle claims through a state agency such as L&I are precluded from bringing an additional federal lawsuit over the same wages. Since she freely entered into the agreement and cashed the check, she gave up the right to double damages available under the FLSA. (Lignore v. Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, No. 04-5735, ED PA, 2007)
Final note: If you are approached by the L&I to settle a wage claim, consider doing so. It may save you time and money.