Featured on Employment Law This Week: The U.S. Supreme Court takes on class action waivers.

In 2012, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that class action waivers in arbitration agreements violate employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits disagreed, finding that these waivers do not violate the NLRA and are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act. More recently, the Seventh and Ninth Circuits sided with the NLRB on the issue. The Supreme Court will consider three cases in order to resolve this split, but any resolution could depend on the timing of the hearing. If the case is heard this term, before President Trump’s nominee for the vacancy on the Supreme Court is confirmed, it could end in a 4-4 tie. That would leave the law as it stands, and the split would continue.

Watch the segment below and see our recent blog post by Michael Kun.

Supreme Court Set To Resolve Class Action Waiver DisputeOn January 13, 2017, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear three cases involving the enforceability of arbitration agreements that contain class action waivers.

Whether such agreements are enforceable has been a hotly contested issue for several years now, particularly in cases involving wage-hour disputes.

The Fifth Circuit has held that such waivers can be enforceable (NLRB v. Murphy Oil, Inc.), joining the Second and Eighth Circuits in that conclusion. The Seventh (Epic Systems, Inc. v. Lewis) and Ninth Circuits (Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris) have held that they are not, determining that they violate employees’ rights to engage in collective activities under the National Labor Relations Act.

Barring the failure to confirm a new Supreme Court Justice to fill the vacant seat before the cases are argued — which could well result in a 4-4 tie — the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Murphy Oil, Epic Systems and Ernst & Young cases would seem likely to resolve the current dispute between the Circuits regarding the enforceability of those waivers. And it would provide some much-needed guidance to employers across the country.

Whether a ninth Supreme Court Justice will be seated in time to hear the cases is questionable, though. It is possible that the case could be held over until the next term, when a full Court presumably will be seated. If that does not occur, and if a 4-4 tie resulted, the split among the Circuits would remain.

Of course, there are many cases across the country in which parties are currently debating whether class action waivers are enforceable. One would think that most, if not all, of those cases will now be stayed while the courts await the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Our colleague Stuart M. Gerson at Epstein Becker Green wrote a new blog post that discusses the Supreme Court’s recent Dart decision: “Supreme Court Lowers the Bar for Class Action Removal.”

Following is an excerpt:

On December 15, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens, a class action removal case.

 In short, the Dart case is welcome news to employers. Standards for removing a case from state to federal court have been an abiding point of concern for employers faced with “home town” class actions. In more recent times, this problem has become a point of interest to employers in health care and other industries that are beset by cybersecurity and data breach cases originating in state courts but calling for the application of federal privacy standards. Dart should help them substantially.

 Read the full post here.

Michael Kun, co-founder of this blog and Member of Epstein Becker Green, was recently quoted in Inside Counsel about the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision upon wage-hour class actions.

The article, “Citing Dukes, Court Overturns Class Certification in Wage and Hour Dispute,” focuses on the Ninth Circuit’s recent Wang v. Chinese Daily News decision, about which Michael has previously written in this blog.

By Kara M. Maciel and Jordan Schwartz

As many employers are aware, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) mandates that employers pay non-exempt employees one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. However, as discussed by our colleague, Richard Tuschman, in his blog post “Reducing Your Company’s Exposure on FLSA Exemption Claims,” depending on the nature of an employee’s work schedule and salary arrangement, an employer can take advantage of the “fluctuating workweek” method. In so doing, an employer may compensate a non-exempt employee for overtime compensation at a rate of one-half his or her regular rate – as opposed to the usual rate of one-and-one half times the regular rate – because such hours have already been compensated at the straight time regular rate, under the salary arrangement.     

Earlier this month, in Urnikis-Negro v. American Family Property Services, 616 F.3d 665 (7th Cir. 2010), Ms. Urnikis-Negro, a former clerical employee at a real estate appraisal firm, sought relief from the U.S. Supreme Court and requested that it clarify the “fluctuating workweek” method that employers can use in calculating overtime. Before the trial court, Ms. Urnikis-Negro contended that although she routinely worked more than 40 hours a week, she never received any overtime pay. American Family Property Services argued that she was exempt for overtime as an administrative employee. While the trial court rejected the employer’s exemption classification, it concluded that it could pay her overtime based on the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) “fluctuating workweek” method.             

In general, pursuant to DOL regulations, the “fluctuating workweek” method applies only when all the following factors are met: 

  •  The employee’s hours fluctuate from week to week;
  •  The employee receives a fixed salary that does not vary based on the number of hours worked each workweek;
  • There is a “clear mutual understanding” between the parties that the fixed salary is compensation for all hours worked each workweek;
  •  The fixed salary is sufficient to provide compensation to the employee at a rate not less than the applicable minimum wage for all hours worked each workweek; and
  • The employee receives additional compensation (in addition to the salary compensation) for all overtime hours worked at a rate of at least one-half the employee’s regular rate of pay. 

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit noted that the propriety of relying on the DOL’s regulations regarding the “fluctuating workweek” method in cases where the employee has been misclassified by her employer as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provision has divided federal courts. Nevertheless, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the trial court’s application of the “fluctuating workweek” method because the evidence demonstrated that the employee’s hours varied from week to week and she understood at the time of her hiring that her fixed salary was intended to cover all of the hours that she worked in a given workweek, even if they exceeded 40 hours per week. 

If the Court reviews the case, it will resolve the question of whether the “fluctuating workweek” method can use used to calculate the amount of overtime liability in cases where an employer has misclassified an employee as being exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions. And, as a practical matter, the Court’s decision to hear and subsequently rule on this case will have a significant impact on the extent of employer liability in misclassification cases in the future.