Florida led the nation in Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits in 2009. Statistics generated from PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) show that about 2000 new cases were filed in United States District Courts in Florida last year, far more than in any other state.
Of course, Florida is not the only hotbed of wage-hour litigation. California, which has its own, more rigorous wage-hour laws, has a large number of wage-hour cases filed in its state court system. Texas and New York are also seeing increasing numbers of wage-hour cases.
But when it comes to the FLSA, the Sunshine State rules. The reasons for this are somewhat mysterious. Are Florida employees more litigious than in other states? Do Florida employers violate the FLSA more often? Is there a more active plaintiff-side employment bar in Florida? I suspect the answer is a combination of all these factors, plus good old-fashioned word of mouth. Here’s what I mean: the vast majority of FLSA cases settle before trial. FLSA settlements generally must be approved by a court, see Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. United States, 679 F.2d 1350 (11th Cir. 1982), and many judges refuse to allow FLSA settlements to be confidential. And even if the terms of a settlement are confidential, a settling plaintiff can always disclose that the case has been “resolved amicably,” or words to that effect. Whatever the exact words, the message is clear – the plaintiff got a nice check. It’s like that old shampoo commercial from the 70’s: a settling plaintiff tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on and so on… Pretty soon you have 2000 FLSA cases on the docket.
So what can a Florida employer do to avoid being named in an FLSA lawsuit? Well, the best advice I can offer is to make every reasonable effort to comply with FLSA. That may seem obvious, but it’s not as easy as it sounds because the FLSA can be counterintuitive; its rules are often inconsistent with what seem to be reasonable and ethical business practices. But if you learn what the FLSA requires, and adopt policies and practices that are consistent with the law, you will go a long way toward avoiding a lawsuit. And, yes, get the advice of a qualified employment lawyer if you are unsure about what to do. Believe me, it will be far less expensive than litigation.