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Supreme Court Green Lights Unpaid Overtime Class Action

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was created to prevent employers from taking advantage of their workers. The law accomplishes this by defining things like overtime and minimum wage. Currently, overtime is defined as any time spent working after eight hours a day or forty hours a week. The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25, but employers are required to pay all their hourly, nonexempt workers one and one-half times their normal hourly rate for all overtime worked.

In order to make sure all employers conducting business in the U.S. adhere to these regulations, the FLSA requires businesses to maintain accurate records of the amount of time their employees spent working. If an employer fails to pay their workers for all the time they worked, the employees can have a very difficult time trying to prove their case if the employer did not maintain accurate records.

When a class of workers sued their employer, Tyson Foods, for allegedly failing to pay them for all the time they spent working, Tyson tried to have the case dismissed based on the fact that the lack of records meant the employees were unable to claim damages.

The lower courts consistently refused to accept this argument and ruled in favor of the class of plaintiffs. Tyson appealed these rulings all the way up to the Supreme Court, which upheld the rulings of the lower courts.

This is a huge win for class action plaintiffs because the Supreme Court’s ruling in Walmart v. Dukes in 2011 has made it much more difficult for employees to successfully file for class certification for the past five years. But in the case against Tyson, the Court pointed out that the claims of the plaintiffs in the Walmart case were too different to justify allowing the case to proceed as a class action. The plaintiffs in Walmart were alleging discriminatory practices from the supervisors, but because multiple supervisors were involved, the Supreme Court ruled the case could not proceed as a class action because the claims were not based on one common practice throughout the company.

By contrast, the Supreme Court pointed out that Tyson’s alleged failure to keep time records is a common practice that similarly affected all hourly employees throughout the company. It also stated that employers should not get off the hook as a direct result of their own violation of the law – in this case, the failure to maintain time records.

In its decision, the Supreme Court cited Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery, a critical wage and hour decision that dates back to 1946. In that case, the court decided that, in the absence of reliable time records, the class of plaintiffs could extrapolate evidence of the time worked by some workers to apply to all members of the class.

Tyson tried to argue that the Mt. Clemens ruling applied only to damages, and not liability. As a result, the ruling should not be applied to claims for employer liability.

The Supreme Court rejected this argument, stating that it is the fact of the lack of time records that is in question, not the legal implication of that fact.

The Chicago class action attorneys at the Chicago Overtime Law Center have three decades of experience fighting to help employees who are victims of wage, overtime and tip theft by their employers. We have a team of Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers who concentrate on prosecuting state and nationwide class action lawsuits. Our attorneys work out of Chicago and Oak Brook offices and pursue claims for workers all over the Chicago area including Carol Stream and Wheaton. We protect unpaid workers who haven’t received overtime throughout the Chicago area including in DuPage, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Cook Counties.

Our Evanston and Oak Park overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers mis-classify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying them overtime. Some employers mistakenly classify employees as exempt and others intentionally do so in order to circumvent the law. In either case, workers do not receive the wages they should, and a lawsuit may be the only way to recover their earned wages.

The Chicago Overtime Law Center is based in Chicago and Oak Brook, and represents clients throughout the country who have unpaid overtime and other employment right claims.