In overtime and wage hour cases, New York law provides for the payment of “liquidated damages” to an employee. This is basically an award made in addition to an order to pay any back wages owed to the employee. Under a 2011 amendment to the New York Labor Law, liquidated damages is equal to 100% of unpaid wages. For example, if your employer cheated you out of $2,000 in overtime pay over a period of several months, you would be entitled to recover that $2,000, plus an additional $2,000 in liquidated damages, for a total award of $4,000.
2010 Supreme Court Ruling Restricts Application of New York Rules in Federal Courts
What about a scenario in which you join a group of employees in a class action? Can you still seek liquidated damages as a group? A federal judge in Brooklyn recently addressed this issue.
The plaintiff in this case worked as a laborer for the defendant. She alleges that despite working between 70 and 80 hours per week, she did not receive overtime pay for any hours worked beyond 40. As a result, she filed a class action complaint in Queens Supreme Court, accusing the defendant of violating New York Labor Law.
The defendant, a corporation based in New Jersey, then “removed” the case to Brooklyn federal court. When a case is removed in this manner, a judge is expected to apply the substantive law of the originating state (New York) but the procedural rules used in federal court. This is important because after removing the case, the defendant then moved to dismiss the complaint because “it seeks liquidated damages,” which New York State court rules prohibit in these type of class actions. In response, the plaintiff argued that under federal court rules, which now apply to this case, there is no such bar.
The judge agreed with the plaintiff. He said the defendant “misapprehends” the relevant case-law on this subject. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed this exact issue in a 2010 decision, Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates v. Allstate Insurance, when it held New York's prohibition of class actions under state law did not prevent “a federal court sitting in diversity from entertaining a class action” under federal rules.
As the judge in the present case noted, the defendant “chose to remove the case to federal court.” If the defendant had wanted to avoid a class action, it should have kept the plaintiff's complaint in state court. But by opting for federal jurisdiction, the defendant must now accept the consequences of its decision.
Contact a NYC Overtime and Wage Hour Attorney Today
Procedural issues are often critical to resolving wage and hour disputes. This is why you need to work with an experienced New York employment law attorney if you are contemplating litigation against a current or former employer. Contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, today if you have not been paid the wages you are entitled to under the law and need advice on what steps to take next.