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Will SCOTUS Let FLSA Defendants 'Buy Off' Putative Class Reps?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We all know that federal judges don't walk around handing out advisory opinions. To bring a matter before a federal court, you need a case or controversy.

But if a defendant makes the putative representative in a collective action an offer in full satisfaction of her claims, is the matter moot as to those who are similarly situated?

Monday, the Supreme Court will consider this question in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk.

Laura Symczyk was employed by Genesis HealthCare Corporation and ElderCare Resources Corporation (the defendants) as a Registered Nurse. In 2009, Symczyk initiated a collective action on behalf of herself and all similarly situated individuals, alleging that the defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when they implemented a policy subjecting the pay of certain employees to an automatic meal break deduction whether or not they performed compensable work during their breaks.

The defendants answered to Symczyk's complaint, and served her with an offer of judgment for $7,500.00 in alleged unpaid wages, plus attorneys' fees, costs and expenses as determined by the court. Symczyk neither disputed the adequacy of defendants' offer, nor responded. (Symczyk later suggested that the defendants were trying to "pick off" the named plaintiff before the court could consider her certification motion.)

The district court "tentatively concluded" that defendants' offer mooted the collective action, and that the action should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court, holding that an FLSA collective action does not become moot when the defendant makes an offer of compromise to the putative representative before "conditional certification" and before other plaintiffs opt in.

In its amicus brief in support of Symczyk, the Solicitor General's office argues, "In light of the important statutory function served by collective actions, sound judicial administration requires that the collective action process proceed unaffected by a defendant's attempt to 'buy off' an unwilling named plaintiff."

What do you think? Will the Supreme Court agree?

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