Fall 2015 U.S. Supreme Court Docket To Include Iowa Overtime Case

By harley erbe

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As Des Moines overtime lawyers and Des Moines wage lawyers we're closely watching two cases pending on the United States Supreme Court's Fall 2015 docket.  Both concern class actions (or collective actions, as they're known in the overtime law world).  And one of the cases, Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, is from Iowa and specifically concerns overtime collective actions.

Typically, to certify a standard class action under federal law, plaintiffs must demonstrate that there are questions of law or fact common to the class.  That requirement is known as the commonality requirement.  The plaintiff also has to show that the common questions predominate over any questions that affect only individual members, what's called the predominance requirement.  But the rules for an overtime class action (technically known as a "collective action"), are different.  To authorize an overtime collective action a court need only determine that the potential plaintiffs are "similarly situated" to each another.  That's generally easier to establish for a plaintiff than the commonality and predominance requirements for a standard class action under federal law.

In the Tyson Foods case, the plaintiff contended that Tyson Foods violated Iowa state wage law and federal overtime law by failing to pay employees for the time they spent putting on and removing protective gear and traveling to and from worksites.  The federal trial court certified a standard class action and an overtime collective action because it concluded that there were common questions over whether the employees' activities were compensable working time.  The plaintiffs won at trial, leading to one of the appeal issues, which concerned how to calculate the employees' earned, unpaid regular wages and overtime.  The trial court permitted the plaintiffs to offer statistical evidence that treated all employees as an average class member for purpose of measuring damages even though class members spent different amounts of time putting protective equipment on and removing it.  On appeal this fall, the United States Supreme Court will determine whether the differences between individual class members, insofar as they spent different amounts of time working with the protective equipment, can be disregarded when deciding whether to certify a class action or federal overtime collective action and whether it was proper to determine damages using statistical evidence.

The other case we're monitoring this fall is Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez.  The Gomez case is expected to answer the question of whether employers can "buy off" potential class or collective action representatives before the plaintiff has a chance to get the class or collective action machinery moving.  At issue in Gomez is a procedural tool called an "offer of judgment."  What if, before a plaintiff seeks to certify a class or collective action, an employer offers to confess judgment for the full amount that the potential class or collective action representative could ever hope to recover through the lawsuit?  In theory, that tactic could permit employers to immediately neutralize a potential class or collective action by giving a plaintiff everything that the plaintiff could hope to recover through the lawsuit.  The idea is that, whether the plaintiff wants it or not, the plaintiff's claim is now "moot" because the plaintiff has been given an opportunity to recover everything without a fight.  That in turn is meant to remove that plaintiff as a potential class or collective action representative.  If that plaintiff no longer has a claim because the employer's voluntarily given the employee everything, then that plaintiff can longer be a possible class action or collective action representative. 

Please feel free to contact us if you need the assistance of a Des Moines employment lawyer.

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