Supreme Court Rules Against Nurse Laura Symczyk in Curious Wage and Hour Case

The Supreme Court just ruled 5 to 4 against Nurse Laura Symczyk in a fascinating wage and hour case. The case has implications for how SCOTUS will treat future collective actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) relative to traditional class actions.
Nurse Laura Symczyk was an RN at Philadelphia’s Pennypack Center. She said that her company subtracted 30 minutes of time from her shift for break time, even though employees like her did work tasks over break.

Genesis (her employer’s parent company) responded to her lawsuit by offering her a settlement of $7,500 to pay her back for the missed break time and cover lawyer fees and costs. This is known as a Rule 68 settlement offer, since it derives from the 68th Rule of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The idea is to encourage settlements and discourage unnecessary lawsuits.

Symczyk did not respond to Genesis’ offer, so the company filed a motion to get the case dismissed. Basically, the company argued that it offered her the claim, and thus rendered her stake in any collective lawsuit moot, since no other workers had agreed to be plaintiffs.

This gets a little technical, but under FLSA, workers must opt into collective actions; whereas in traditional class actions, similarly situated people are just presumed to be members of a class.

Symczyk’s lawyers argued that Genesis HealthCare Corp. aimed to “pick-off” the lead plaintiff to prevent a bigger wage and hour lawsuit.

There was a lot of back and forth in this case. A Lower District Court agreed with Genesis, but the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, saying that Rule 68 was not designed to allow defendants to “pick-off” lead plaintiffs.

The Supreme Court rendered a split decision, 5-4, splitting under ideological lines. SCOTUS said that even though Symcyzk could have pursued collective relief under FLSA on behalf of other nurses and employees like her, once Genesis satisfied the claim, her case became moot.

Close watchers believe that SCOTUS’s decision would just “add fuel to a boiling dispute” over how and whether the principles of class action law should apply to cases involving FLSA collective actions.

If you believe that your employer has not paid you fairly — or has violated New York Labor Laws or the FLSA — please connect with the experienced team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum. Call us now at (212) 688-5640 for assistance, or get in touch with us at info@jhllp.com.