Class-action attorneys love the Fair Labor Standards Act because it makes it easy for them to take small individual claims for unpaid overtime and turn them into mass litigation cases. That way, a single lawyer or law firm can represent thousands of similarly situated workers.
That can lead to big paychecks for workers—and lots of revenue for the lawyer.
But employers aren’t powerless. They can prepare for possible collective-action litigation by keeping careful records of exactly what each employee does.
Doing so may help employers show that the employees’ claims aren’t substantially similar because their jobs are different.
The lesson is simple: The bigger the workforce, the more valuable are accurate job descriptions.
Recent case: Shenitia, a home health care companion, was classified as exempt from overtime.
She sued, alleging that she provided little “companionship” and instead spent considerable time providing house cleaning and maintenance services for her clients. Shenitia claimed that she spent more than 20% of her work time doing housekeeping tasks.
She sought to represent more than 5,000 other home health care companions who worked for the same company.
The employer argued that it could show that each companion had a different mix of duties based on an individualized care plan each client received.
That was enough for the court to deny class-action status. And that made the case far less valuable to the lawyers bringing it and the stakes much lower for the employer. (Cowell v. Utopia Home Care, No. 14-CV-736, ED NY, 2016)