This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Ohio (among other States), rejected an employer’s attempt to limit its ability to be sued for violating the rights of its employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act or the Equal Pay Act. The case is a significant victory for those who believe corporations should be held responsible when they violate their employees’ rights. The case is Boaz v. FedEx Customer Information Services, Inc., Case No. 12-5319.
The Fair Labor Standards Act governs payment of overtime and minimum wage to employees. Technically a part of the FLSA is the Equal Pay Act, which generally forbids employers from paying female employees less than their equally qualified male counterparts for performing the same job duties. Both statutes allow employees with claims to bring suit within two or three years, depending on the facts of the case.
Despite the clear timeframes set out by Congress, FedEx forced employee Margaret Boaz to sign an agreement stating that if FedEx violated her rights, she only had six months to sue or be forever barred from vindicating her rights. In 2009, Boaz did sue FedEx, claiming it failed to pay her overtime as required by the FLSA, and paid her less than a male co-worker for performing the same job as prohibited by the Equal Pay Act. Pointing to the agreement it made her sign, FedEx said her claims were untimely because, although she sued within three years, she did not sue within six months.
The Sixth Circuit rejected FedEx’s attempt to skirt its obligations under the law. With respect to the FLSA claim, the Court pointed out that for nearly seventy years the Supreme Court has prohibited employers from forcing employees to waive their rights under the FLSA. With respect to the Equal Pay Act claim, the Court held that since the EPA is technically part of the FLSA, employers may not force employees to waive their rights under it either.
Corporations as well as employees should be responsible for their actions in the workplace. Employers should not take advantage of their employees’ need for a job to try and limit or avoid responsibility for breaking the law. In this case, the Court rejected FedEx’s attempt to do just that. Unfortunately, there are many other cases where employers have been permitted to force employees to sign away their rights, as we have discussed by way of example here.
The takeaway for employees is two-fold. First, employees need to understand what rights their employers cannot force them to waive. And second, employees need to move quickly in order to not lose their right to a day in court