As a firm that focuses on class-action litigation, and wage and hour class-actions in particular, our attorneys are always mindful of judicial rulings that may affect our clients. Early this year, a case in Federal Court in the Northern District of Illinois’ Eastern Division addressed a couple of issues that are important to both employers and employees. The opinion from Collazo v. Forefront Education, addressed questions surrounding a motion to certify a class action under under 29 USC 216(b) for violations of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) flowing from the Defendant’s failure to pay overtime wages to the Plaintiff class members. The Court also commented on the effect of employee-signed releases on an employee’s rights under FLSA.
Plaintiffs are former Illinois admissions representatives of Defendant Forefront Education, a for-profit educational institution with campuses in Illinois and Florida. Plaintiffs sought to certify a class including all current and former admission reps at both locations who did not receive overtime pay from October 20, 2005 – present. Defendants argued that:
1) Plaintiffs provided no basis for sending notice to Florida employees;
2) Plaintiffs failed to show that notice was warranted for the Illinois class members;
3) Plaintiffs failed to identify an adequate class representative; and
4) the language in the class notice was deficient.
To conditionally certify a class under 216(b), Plaintiffs must make a “modest factual showing sufficient to demonstrate that they and potential plaintiffs together were victims of a common policy or plan that violated the law.” The Court found that Plaintiffs failed to make the required showing as to the Florida employees. The only evidence provided by the Plaintiffs was copies of job descriptions pulled from the Florida location’s website, which the Court deemed insufficient. The judge also noted that Plaintiffs had no affiant with personal knowledge of the work schedules or conditions of admissions reps at the Florida locations in ruling against certifying the Florida employees as class-members.
The Court granted the motion as to the Illinois admissions reps due to the less stringent standard under 216(b) as compared to the requirements for class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23. The Court found that the class representatives were able to make 216(b)’s “modest factual showing” because: the named Plaintiffs were all employed at the Illinois campus, they each submitted a declaration to the court detailing their respective work schedules and the schedules of coworkers, and they provided documentary evidence that employees were required to work Saturdays.
The Court found one Plaintiff to be an adequate class representative despite the Defendant’s argument that Plaintiff had signed a post-employment release of all claims, including any claims under the FLSA. The Court found that “rights under the FLSA cannot be abridged by contract or otherwise waived,” and the release in question was impermissibly broad as it purported to waive rights under the FLSA. Lastly, the Court required that the class definition be amended to include only those admissions reps who actually worked more than forty hours per week and were not paid overtime.
The ruling in Collazo has something for everyone. The Court makes it clear to potential Plaintiffs that they will not rubber-stamp class certifications under the FLSA, despite the fact that certification requirements under the Act are less burdensome than in other federal class-action lawsuits. For business owners, the ruling means that while a release may effectively remove the threat of some legal claims, they cannot contract away an FLSA wage and hour lawsuit in the same manner.
Lubin Austermuehle has a team of attorneys who focus on nationwide class action lawsuits and who have successfully handled many large wage and hour disputes. Our Chicago and Park Ridge 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 misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying 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 the wages that are rightfully theirs. Lubin Austermuehle is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Chicago wage and hour attorneys by phone at 1 630-333-0333, or through our online form.