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Pending Supreme Court Class Action Wage Theft Case Poised to Set Powerful Precedent

If this website is any indication, 2012 wan an encouraging year for wage theft policing. Wage and hour lawsuits appear to be on the rise in the U.S. but an important case is pending at the Supreme Court that could impact this important issue’s trajectory.

Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp. revolves around nursing home worker Laura Symczyk who claims her and fellow workers were denied payment for work they did during their lunch break periods. The case was summarized by The American Prospect:

According to Symczyk, Genesis routinely docked the pay of workers (including herself) for lunch breaks that were not taken. Reflecting the strength of her claim, Genesis offered her $7,500 plus associated fees to settle. Symczyk, however, rejected the offer, believing that she was suing not just for herself but for her co-workers. She wanted time for her lawyers to determine if her case could be brought as a class-action suit, representing all the victims of wage theft at Genesis.

Symczyk hesitated to take an offer from Genesis on the grounds that it did not compensate her fellow employees (solidarity!). Genesis believes the case should be dismissed as they have taken care of all claims with the offer. The precedent this case could set in terms of future of class actions is clear and perhaps best explained by Unionosity.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Genesis Healthcare, employers will be able to stop class actions before they start by offering individuals lowball settlements, and then arguing that because those settlement offers exists, they are unable to bring a collective suit. In addition, for low-paid workers (such as say, nursing home workers like Symczyk), legal costs are often too great to pursue individual cases — many plaintiffs’ class action attorneys would be more likely to be persuaded to represent a class of low-wage workers experiencing similar alleged violations, rather than just one. This is to say nothing of the retaliation risks an individual bringing charges against a big company faces, as opposed to a group. There is legal power in numbers.

Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center, Marcia D. Greenberger, assisted Symczyk with her case and commented after the initial hearings:

“This case epitomizes precisely the type of circumstances that Congress sought to change when it passed the Fair Labor Standards Act 74 years, ago,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, NWLC Co-President. “The allegations in this case are that the nursing home employees were subject to wage theft, pure and simple. If employers can shut down the legitimate legal grievances of many merely by offering to buy off one employee, it will harm both the workforce and the work the employees are conducting.”


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