By Douglas Weiner
A faculty comprised of Defense counsel and Plaintiffs’ counsel presented strategic insights to those who gathered at the American Conference Institute’s 9th National Forum on Wage Hour Claims and Class Actions. I had the pleasure of moderating a judicial panel comprised of six federal jurists who offered practitioners key insights from their experience in presiding over cases alleging violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition to the substantive issues of class and collective action litigation, I took the opportunity to ask the judges what tips they had for wage-hour litigators to make effective presentations in their courtrooms. After a lively discussion, led by the Honorable Roger B. Cosby, the consensus of the members of the judicial panel was that practitioners would benefit from the following points:
- Know the Judge: Judges are not all the same, so find out as much as you can about the District Judge and Magistrate Judge assigned to your case.
- Know Opposing Counsel: Attorneys are not all the same either.
- First Impressions Count: The Initial Conference is often your first opportunity to make an impression on the judge. You want to be viewed as “competent” and “reasonable”.
- There is More Than One Way to Litigate a Wage Hour case: Litigation does not yield to universal, cookie-cutter strategies. If you are successful in simplifying a complex case for the Judge, you assume the role of Trusted Guide.
- Be the Trusted Guide: Many cases are a jumble of disputed facts, conflicting theories and theories of claims. Judges often look for the one thread that will unravel the whole tangled mess. You want to be the person the Court will look to and trusts to show them how to emerge from the legal morass. Your role in this capacity depends a great deal on how the Court sees you from the outset.
- Settlement Conference Submission: If the judge does not ask for pre-settlement conference submissions, ask for leave to submit a short one, and find out whether the court requires them to be exchanged. You want the settlement judge going into the conference with the notion that the outcome you espouse is the fairer one.
The judicial panel was comprised of Hon. Donetta W. Ambrose, U.S. District Court, W.D. Pa; Hon. Warren W. Eginton, U.S. District Court, D. Conn.; Hon. Raymond L. Erickson, U.S. District Court, D. Minn., Hon. Roger B. Cosbey, U.S. District Court, N.D. Ind.; Hon. Suzanne H. Segal, U.S. District Court, C.D. Cal.; and Hon. Stephen J. Murphy, III, Eastern District of Mich.
Douglas Weiner is a Senior Trial Counsel in the Labor and Employment practice in the EpsteinBeckerGreen New York office. He has 30 years of federal wage-hour litigation experience with the U.S. Department of Labor. As Senior Trial Attorney for the New York Regional Solicitor's Office, Mr. Weiner was the lead prosecutor on many of the Department’s most significant wage-hour and whistleblower cases, including those pursuant to Sarbanes-Oxley and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Mr. Weiner now represents employers in government audits and defends employers in wage-hour class and collective actions.