By Chris Arbery and Michelle E. O’Leary
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an attempt by employees to pursue remedies and procedures beyond those available under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for state common-law claims predicated on alleged violations of the FLSA.
A class of approximately 1,600 hourly production workers at Sara Lee’s bakery in Tarboro, N.C., filed a class-action complaint, alleging five claims under North Carolina law. These claims included breach of contract, negligence, fraud, conversion and unfair trade practices. All of these claims stemmed from the allegation that the class members were not compensated for time spent changing into and out of required work attire.
The 4th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the conversion and unfair trade practices claims because there is no cause of action under these theories for wage disputes in North Carolina. The appeals court went on to hold that the class members’ fraud, breach of contract and negligence claims were pre-empted by the FLSA, and it remanded the case with instructions to dismiss these three claims without prejudice.
In so holding, the appeals court noted that the claims were predicated on alleged violations of the FLSA and its requirements to include certain time for “donning and doffing” as time worked for purposes of minimum wage and overtime.
When a state common-law claim requires the same proof as an FLSA claim, the 4th Circuit said that the FLSA provides the exclusive remedial and enforcement scheme for the violation of its rights. State common-law claims that “merely duplicate” FLSA claims stand as an “obstacle” to the enforcement of the FLSA and are pre-empted.
Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp . , 4th Cir., No. 05-1091 y (Nov. 19, 2007).
Professional Pointer: This decision does not address cases in which a state wage and hour statute affords employees with greater protection than does the FLSA. The FLSA contains a “savings clause” explicitly providing that more stringent state laws will not be pre-empted. However, it does mean that, at least in the 4th Circuit, plaintiffs may not pick and choose state common-law remedies and procedural schemes for wage and hour violations, where the state common law claim is predicated on an alleged violation of the FLSA.
Chris Arbery and Michelle E. O’Leary are attorneys on the Labor & Employment Team at Hunton & Williams LLP in Atlanta.
Editor’s Note: This article should not be construed as legal advice.