Recently, two employees of Circle K Stores, Inc. filed a collective action lawsuit against the company. The employees are seeking recovery of unpaid overtime wages plus interest, along with liquidated damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit alleges that the employees regularly worked as many as 55 hours per week, but were not properly compensated for a portion of those hours. If proven, these allegations would likely amount to a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act(“FLSA”). The FLSA requires that most employees be paid one-and-a-half times their regular wage rate for all hours they work over forty in any given week. In this suit, the employees allege that they never received adequate overtime pay. Thus, they claim they are entitled to a monetary award equal to the difference between their proper overtime wage and their regular wage for all of the overtime hours they worked since the beginning of their employment at Circle K, and/or the three-year time period that preceded the filing of their lawsuit.
The two employees who initiated the suit have somewhat different claims. One employee, Joaquina Martha Dominguez, claims that Circle K misclassified her as a manager that was exempt from overtime, even though her job responsibilities–such as stocking shelves and operating the cash register–were that of a non-management employee. Many managers are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements, and therefore, are not entitled to overtime pay. However, employers sometimes misclassify employees as managers in order to save money and avoid having to pay overtime. If Dominguez proves that she was unlawfully misclassified, she would be entitled to the same mandatory overtime wage protections as other employees covered by the FLSA. Circle K classified the other employee in the suit, Luis A. Villegas, as a non-exempt employee entitled to FLSA protections.
Further, the lawsuit alleges that Circle K, in failing to pay its workers time-and-a-half, was knowingly or recklessly violating the FLSA. The suit alleges that Circle K failed to post notice of FLSA protections as required by law. If proven, such a knowing or reckless violation can extend the time period for recovery of wages, as well as permit the recovery of liquidated damages (which doubles the amount of unpaid wages).
As a collective action lawsuit, other Circle K workers can choose to join this suit. This means that the suit will be litigated on behalf of all Circle K employees and former employees who allege improper overtime compensation and who affirmatively join the suit. Unlike some class actions, FLSA class actions do not bind similarly situated workers who do not affirmatively join the suit by filing a consent form with the Court. Class action suits can give employees a stronger negotiating position. Depending on the number of Circle K employees who join the suit, the company may feel increased pressure to settle out of court to avoid a large damages award following a jury trial. Also, Circle K employees with smaller claims will find it easier to join this suit than to pursue litigation on their own.
If you are an employee who is not receiving proper overtime pay, or if you want to better understand your rights, you should consult a St. Louis overtime attorney.