October 21, 2019

October 18, 2019

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Who Gets Notice Of a Collective Action?

In the first federal circuit court decision to address a procedural matter of growing importance in class litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, held that following the conditional certification phase of a case, notice of a collective action cannot be sent to employees who have entered into arbitration agreements that include class waivers.

The decision was issued in a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime collective action involving a potential class of 42,000 current and former call center employees—about 35,000 (or 85 percent) of whom had consented to arbitration.The appeals court struck down a district court decision that required the employer in this “off the clock” suit to turn over to plaintiffs the personal contact information for its “arbitration employees” in order to send them notice of the pending action.

While district courts have discretion to determine who is to receive notice of a pending collective action, they do not have “unbridled discretion,” the appeals court stressed. Their notice-sending authority is limited to notifying potential plaintiffs. Alerting those who cannot participate in the collective action by virtue of having waived the right “merely stirs up litigation,” the appeals court wrote. Moreover, providing notice to these individuals is inconsistent with their arbitration agreements and contrary to the goals of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), the appeals court concluded.

District courts have split over the question. Recently, the question has been presented to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, which granted interlocutory review on May 3 of a case in which a district court in Illinois granted conditional certification.

Why it matters

Whether notice of a collective action may be sent to employees who have entered into arbitration agreements is the latest front in the ongoing legal battle over whether employers and employees can agree to resolve their disputes through individual arbitration, rather than class or collective litigation or arbitration.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night”stays postal carriers from their appointed rounds. Defense counsel facilitates the speedy completion of those rounds by working to keep the weight of those mail satchels light through limiting the scope of notice sent to putative collectives and classes. Indeed, many companies implement expansive arbitration programs with class-action waivers. An effective arbitration agreement may wash away the potential for sizable collectives. However, as a Denzel Washington movie character once aptly noted: “If you pray for rain, you’ve got to deal with the mud too.”

While an effective arbitration program may wash away the potential for a large collective action, mud may come along with that benefit in the form of repeated arbitrations, higher costs (e.g., legal and arbitration fees), and, to the extent matters are also filed in the courts, imprecise classes or subclasses. Put simply, employers appear to be reconsidering whether the mounting hurdles to enforcing an arbitration agreement undermine the benefits associated with arbitration programs altogether.

Whether an employee had entered into an arbitration agreement is certainly a primary consideration with respect to the scope of a potential collective. One of the first disputes in any collective action is who will receive the court-supervised notice. Among others, the considerations include the potential size of the collective, the likelihood of participation, the potential scope of damages based upon the makeup of the collective, and the breadth of any potential release in the event of a resolution. Additionally, factors such as geography, disparate policies or practices, and the timeframe associated with the alleged violation may be considered in determining who receives notice of the collective action. This obviously begs the question of precisely how counsel and the court finally determine who receives notice. And, as we note in our discussion, “It all starts with notice.”

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2019

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About this Author

Principal

Stephanie L. Adler-Paindiris is a Principal and Office Litigation Manager for the Orlando, Florida, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She is Co-Leader of the firm's Class Actions and Complex Litigation practice group. Her practice focuses exclusively on the representation of employers at the trial and appellate level in state and federal courts, as well as proceedings before administrative judges and agencies.

Ms. Adler-Paindiris has conducted over a dozen trials before juries and judges in state and federal courts. In addition, Ms. Adler has participated in...

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David Golder, Jackson Lewis, wage hour dispute attorney, Fair Labor Standard Act Lawyer
Principal

David R. Golder is a Principal in the Hartford, Connecticut, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Golder has extensive experience handling class and complex litigation, including nationwide, high-stakes wage and hour disputes. Mr. Golder defends employers in class-based, multi-plaintiff, and multi-district wage and hour class and collective actions involving claims for employee misclassification, improper payment of wages, off-the-clock work, and meal and rest break violations. Mr. Golder also provides preventive advice and counsel to employers wishing to limit their exposure to investigation and litigation under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the state laws that require employers to pay overtime and minimum wages to their employees.

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Eric R. Magnus, Jackson Lewis, Wage and Hour Class Defense Lawyer, Employment Matters Attorney
Shareholder

Eric R. Magnus is a Shareholder in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. His practice is focused primarily on defending federal and state wage and hour class and collective actions in jurisdictions across the United States.

Mr. Magnus’ collective and class action practice focus primarily on “donning and doffing,” “off-the-clock” and misclassification wage and hour cases. Mr. Magnus has obtained summary judgment at the district and circuit court levels in Fair Labor Standards Act and state law cases across the...

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