In early October 2011, Pamela Roberts, a former Gibson Guitar employee, asked a Tennessee federal judge to certify her wage and hour claim against Gibson as a collective action. Ms. Roberts alleges that Gibson illegally failed to pay her for time she spent working during lunch breaks, as well as hours she worked before and after her shift.
In her request, Ms. Roberts claimed to have worked for Gibson a total of about four months, during which time she manufactured guitars. Ms. Roberts was an hourly employee whose regular work schedule amounted to about forty hours per week. However, because of her demanding workload, Ms. Roberts often worked through her half-hour lunch breaks. Also, she frequently worked on guitars both before her shift began and after her shift ended. Ms. Roberts was not paid for these "off the clock"hours. Apparently, when she told her supervisor about the additional hours she was working, her supervisor said, "I don't care as long as you get the work done."
Unlike Ms. Gibson's supervisor, federal law does care whether employees are paid for the time which they spend working. The Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") requires that most employees be paid at least the minimum wage for all hours worked, and a premium rate for all overtime hours (hours worked over forty in any given workweek). (This premium rate is equal to one-and-one-half of the employee's regular rate.)
Gibson allegedly violated the FLSA's overtime provisions since it was failing to pay Ms. Roberts at a premium rate for work she performed during her lunch breaks and before and after her shifts. Despite this overtime violation, Gibson was presumably not violating the FLSA's minimum wage provision because, even though it was not paying Ms. Roberts for these hours, her average wage rate for all the hours she worked was still above the minimum wage. However, Ms. Roberts alleges that, even when she worked unpaid hours during a week where she did not work over forty hours, Gibson should have to pay her for her unpaid hours according to Tennessee's common law doctrine of unjust enrichment.
Plaintiffs like Ms. Roberts hire attorneys to help them make their case in court. However, when plaintiffs cannot afford to pay the hourly costs of legal assistance themselves, attorneys will often work for a client without requiring any pay until and unless they help their client receive compensation, at which point they will require a certain percentage of the compensation (or the attorney's fees which the court orders the defendant to pay). But because of the financial risk this type of agreement places on an attorney, it is often difficult for plaintiffs to get an attorney to assist them when the amount of money they are owed is relatively small. This is one reason why the law allows and encourages plaintiffs to join their claims together--a larger potential judgment against a defendant (like Gibson) will attract more competent attorneys to help plaintiffs. Additionally, consolidating the litigation of multiple plaintiffs into a single lawsuit can save the court system and the plaintiffs time and money. For these reasons, Ms. Gibson asked the court to allow her case to proceed as a collective action suit, as authorized by the FLSA.
If you have performed work "off the clock" work for which you have not been paid, or if you would like to know more about your legal rights at work, you should contact a St. Louis overtime attorney.