Best Overtime Wage And Hour Attorney Answers: Can my employer limit my right to sue it for wage and hour violations? Can my boss make me sign a contract that limits my right to sue? How do I find an Equal Pay Act Lawyer?
If there is one thing out there that is sometimes more powerful than law, it’s the power of the contract. Employers can (and often do) put all kinds of things in their employment contracts that limit the rights of employees and courts often enforce these limitations. Examples include arbitration agreements which limits the right of the employee to pursue claims in court, caps on damages, and abbreviated statutes of limitations. For example, under Ohio law, most forms of unlawful discrimination are subject to a six year statute of limitations, but our employment attorneys have seen employers attempt to limit the statute to as little as 30 days! Inevitably, the question arises: what are the limits? As the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held, the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is one law a contract cannot overcome.
The case, Boaz v. FedEx Customer Information Services, involved a FedEx employee, Margaret Boaz, who sued Fedex for violations of the FLSA and the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) after she alleged that Fedex had failed to pay her overtime and had paid her less than men to perform the same job duties. Fedex then argued that because Boaz signed an employment agreement that limited her right to pursue claims under the FLSA to six months from the last violation, her claim was barred. (Generally, the FLSA has a two year statute of limitations for most claims, and a three year statute of limitations for “willful” violations.) Because Fedex had not violated the FLSA or the EPA since June of 2008, slightly less than a year before Boaz sued Fedex in April of 2009, Fedex argued that Boaz could not sue them. The District Court agreed and granted summary judgment to Fedex. Boaz subsequently appealed.
On review, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the lower court, finding that Fedex’s shortened limitation period well established legal precedent that employees cannot waive their right under the FLSA:
Shortly after the FLSA was enacted, the Supreme Court expressed concern that an employer could circumvent the Act’s requirements — and thus gain an advantage over its competitors — by having its employees waive their rights under the Act. See Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706-10, 65 S. Ct. 895, 89 L. Ed. 1296 (1945). Such waivers, according to the Court, would “nullify” the Act’s purpose of “achiev[ing] a uniform national policy of guaranteeing compensation for all work or employment engaged in by employees covered by the Act.” Jewell Ridge Coal Corp. v. Local No. 6167, United Mine Workers of Am., 325 U.S. 161, 167, 65 S. Ct. 1063, 89 L. Ed. 1534 (1945); see also O’Neil, 324 U.S. at 707. The Court therefore held that employees may not, either prospectively or retrospectively, waive their FLSA rights to minimum wages, overtime, or liquidated damages. D.A. Schulte, Inc. v. Gangi, 328 U.S. 108, 114, 66 S. Ct. 925, 90 L. Ed. 1114 (1946); O’Neil, 324 U.S. at 707; see also Runyan v. Nat’l Cash Register Corp., 787 F.2d 1039, 1041-42 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc).
In response, Fedex argued that employees should be able to limit their rights under the FLSA, just as they can under various anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Because, of course this is great for employees, right?) The Court wasn’t buying it:
[t]hat argument is meritless for two reasons. First, employees can waive their claims under Title VII. See, e.g., Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 52, 94 S. Ct. 1011, 39 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1974). Second — and relatedly — an employer that pays an employee less than minimum wage arguably gains a competitive advantage by doing so. See Citicorp Indus. Credit, Inc. v. Brock, 483 U.S. 27, 36, 107 S. Ct. 2694, 97 L. Ed. 2d 23 (1987). An employer who refuses to hire African-Americans or some other racial group does not. The Court’s rationale for prohibiting waiver of FLSA claims is therefore not present for Title VII claims.
The takeaway from Boaz is that while employers can severely limit an employee’s rights, the Courts will draw a sharp line at the FLSA. If you believe that your employer is not paying you all of your wages for all of your lawfully earned overtime compensation at a rate of one and half times your normal wages as requires under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act or Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards laws or you are an nonexempt employee that has been misclassified as exempt, contact the attorneys at The Spitz Law Firm today for a free and confidential initial consultation. Or, maybe you are being misclassified as an independent contractor. The wage and hour lawyers at The Spitz Law Firm will provide you with the best options for your overtime pay dispute situation. If you even think that you may be entitled to overtime pay that you are not being paid, call 866-797-6040.
The materials available at the top of this overtime, wage and hour web page and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “Am I entitled to overtime?”, “Does my job have to pay me for …”, “My paycheck is not right…” or “What do I do if…”, the your best option is to contact an Ohio overtime attorney to obtain advice with respect to FLSA questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.