In a class/collective action lawsuit being handled by Riggan Law Firm, LLC, a St. Louis employment law firm, a federal court Judge recently reconsidered a prior ruling and held that claims for unpaid wages under Missouri common law are subject to a five-year statute of limitations, and not a two-year statute of limitations as the Court held previously.
In the case of Davenport, et al. v. Charter Communications, LLC, a group of call center operators who worked at Charter have brought class and collective action wage and hour claims under federal and state law based upon their allegation that they were required by Charter to perform work off the clock before and after their paid shifts. Specifically, the Plaintiffs--including employees who worked at Charter call centers in Missouri, Kentucky, and Michigan--allege that they were required to spend pre-shift time off the clock to boot up and log onto computers and load computer programs/applications and to spent post-shift time off the clock to shut down computer programs/applications and log off of their computers. To the extent that the Plaintiffs' off the clock time amounted to unpaid overtime (i.e., hours over 40 in a single workweek), they seek to assert claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers to pay employees one-and-one-half times their regular rate for all work hours over 40 per workweek. To the extent that the Plaintiffs' off the clock time amounted to unpaid straight time (or gap time) wages, which are hours short of 40 per workweek, they seek to assert claims for unpaid wages under Missouri law, such as claims for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment.
At the inception of the lawsuit, Charter filed a motion with the Court claiming that a two-year statute of limitations applied to Plaintiffs' Missouri common law claims and asked the Court to dismiss such claims to the extent they sought payment of wages beyond the two-year period preceding the date the lawsuit was filed. Initially, the Court granted Charter's motion, found that a two-year statute of limitations applied, and dismissed Plaintiffs' Missouri common law claims to the extent Plaintiffs sought relief beyond the two-year period prior to suit being filed. Specifically, in rendering that decision, the Court reviewed and relied upon the two-year statute of limitations set forth in the Missouri Minimum Wage Law, Mo. Rev. Stat. Section 290.500, et seq.
Plaintiffs later asked the Court to reconsider its ruling on the statute of limitations issue based upon the decision of Trapp v. O. Lee, LLC, 2013 WL 171812 (E.D. Mo. Jan. 16, 2013), in which Judge Katherine Perry rejected the Court's reasoning in the Charter case that applied a two-year statute of limitations and held that Missouri common law claims for unpaid wages are governed by the five-year statute of limitations set forth in Section 516.120(1) of the Revised Missouri Statutes.
In an Order dated March 13, 2013, Judge Audrey Fleissig granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Reconsideration, reversed its prior ruling that was in Charter's favor, and held that unpaid wage claims under Missouri common law are subject to a five-year statute of limitations, and not a two-year statute of limitations. The Court found that the two-year statute of limitations relied upon by Charter applies only to minimum wage and overtime claims brought pursuant to Section 290.500 et seq. of the Revised Missouri Statutes. The Court stated that since Plaintiffs' Missouri common law claims were for gap time wages only (i.e., unpaid work time in weeks where employees had a total of less than 40 hours of work), then the general Missouri five-year statute of limitations applies.
The Court's decision is important because it provides for a longer period of recovery for employees seeking payment of wages under Missouri law. This issue is particularly important in class action cases, where one or more class representatives often seek to recover wages for a group of employees who claim they were paid incorrectly under the law. The decision also affirms existing law that creates significant risk for employer's who violate wage laws, as such an employer is on the hook for unpaid wages for a five-year period preceding the filing of a lawsuit.
If you are an employee who has been unlawfully deprived of wages, or if you want to learn more about your rights, you should contact a St. Louis wage and hour lawyer.