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What are the Strategic Implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision in Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk?

A nurse's Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action against her employer was properly dismissed after the employer's offer of full relief for her individual claims rendered the case moot. That was the ruling of the US Supreme Court yesterday (April 16, 2013) in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk.

Laura Symczyk sued Genesis, her employer, under the FLSA purportedly on behalf of herself and a group of “similarly situated” putative, unnamed claimants. Genesis made her a Rule 68 offer of judgment of $7,500. It was undisputed that the offer covered all of her individual monetary claims. Symczyk ignored the offer. After finding that no other individuals had joined her suit, the District Court ruled that Symczyk’s claim had been rendered moot by the Rule 68 offer, and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that although her individual claim may be moot, her collective action was not.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the 5-4 majority, reversed the Third Circuit. “In the absence of any claimant’s opting in [to the FLSA collective action], respondent’s suit became moot when her individual claim became moot, because she lacked any personal interest in representing others in this action.” The majority found that once the individual class representative’s claim is satisfied, the FLSA does not authorize an employee to continue a collective action solely on behalf of “other employees similarly situated,” when those other employees have not joined the case. Thus, the presence of collective action allegations in the complaint, without more, could not prevent a finding of mootness. The fact that Symczyk had not accepted Genesis’ offer was irrelevant because both the District Court and the Third Circuit had deemed Symczyk's individual claim moot.

In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Elena Kagan argued that an “unaccepted settlement offer … is a legal nullity”, and that the Court’s Opinion would have no application in future cases as it  rested on a “bogus premise” and “serve[d] only to address a make-believe problem.”

While some employers hailed the decision as providing another strategic option to defeat the ever-growing tide of FLSA collective actions being filed against them, members of the plaintiffs’ bar take the position that the holding in this case will forever be limited to its rather unique set of facts. Only time will tell which side is right.



About this Author

Mitchell Quick, Michael Best Friedrich, management labor attorney, wrongful discharge legal counsel, small manufacturing facility representation, employment compliance lawyer

Mitch Quick is a partner whose practice includes all aspects of management labor and employment law, with an emphasis on employment discrimination litigation, wrongful discharge, and wage and hour law issues. He has represented large and small manufacturing facilities, dairy cooperatives, hospitals, financial institutions, nursing homes, restaurants, and technology companies. He is co-author of Michael Best’s “Guide to the Fair Labor Standards Act” and Chair of the firm’s Wage Claim Defense Practice.

Professional Activities...

Paul E. Benson, product and tort liability litigator, michael best law firm

Paul Benson is Chair of the firm's Product and Tort Liability Litigation Focus Group and the previous Chair of the firm’s Litigation Practice Group. Mr. Benson is the leader of the Agribusiness, Food & Beverage practice, a sub-group of the firm’s Advanced Manufacturing Industry Group. Since joining the firm, Mr. Benson has been involved in litigation across the country in the areas of product liability and personal injury litigation, class action, collective action and multi-district litigation, toxic tort litigation, intellectual property litigation, insurance litigation and commercial litigation.

Joseph Olson, litigation trial attorney, Michael Best Friedrich, product liability defense lawyer, employee benefits law, complex commercial legal counsel

Joe Olson is a trial attorney and a partner in firm’s Litigation Practice Group. Mr. Olson practices primarily in the areas of constitutional law, class action defense, product liability defense, employee benefits and complex commercial litigation matters.

In addition to his trial practice Mr. Olson has a successful appellate practice. Mr. Olson has handled numerous appellate cases in state and federal court and has had the pleasure of arguing before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Wisconsin Supreme...

Benjamin Kaplan, Michael Best Friedrich, product liability litigation, class action defense attorney, petition for certiorari lawyer, commercial torts legal counsel, appellate law

Ben Kaplan is a member of the firm’s Litigation Practice Group in the Milwaukee office. He practices primarily in the areas of litigating commercial torts, product liability, and class action defense and has jury trial experience in both state and federal court.  Mr. Kaplan has experience in all stages of pre- and post-trial litigation, as well as appellate litigation up through and including filing a petition for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.

Prior Work Experience

Prior to joining Michael Best, Mr....