In most (if not all) FLSA cases I handle, whether single plaintiff or collective action, there is usually a State of New Jersey cause of action set forth as Count II, with the FLSA Count as the first one. The New Jersey Count is duplicative of the federal count to the extent that people (ultimately) opt-in to the federal case (but without the liquidated damages) but the state Count is governed by Rule 23 considerations, not the opt-in principles.
In Thompson v. Real Estate Mortgage Network, Inc., the plaintiff, Patricia Thompson, sued her former employers for allegedly failing to compensate for overtime work, in violation of the FLSA and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (“NJWHL”). Under FRCP Rule 12(b)(6), the Employer moved to dismiss the state Count on the pleadings, asserting that a claim for overtime was not cognizable under the New Jersey minimum wage law.
The Employer argued that the lack of a definition of the term “minimum fair wage” in the section of the NJWHL that conferred a private right of action precluded an overtime action from being brought. The defendants argued that, without a specific definition, a court could not expand that term to include overtime claims. The district court Judge began his analysis by observing that it was not” immediately apparent” to the Court that a “minimum fair wage” excluded overtime.
With that said, the Court then noted (as was quite plain) that the NJWHL’s statute of limitations section – titled “Limitations; commencement of action” – did refer explicitly to overtime compensation. Thus, the court reasoned that “if the State legislature did not intend to create a private right of action for overtime compensation, this language is inexplicable. The New Jersey legislature would not have prescribed a limitation period for a nonexistent cause of action.”
The Court also observed that the FLSA included a right of action to recover withheld overtime payments and that the principle of parallel construction suggested that the NJWHL should be interpreted the same way. Noting that these laws should be interpreted liberally, the Court found it “difficult to conclude that the NJWHL gives employees fewer or narrower rights than the FLSA.”
There is an old canon in the world of litigation—you don’t want your first motion, your first initiative before a Court (any court) to be a loser. To me, that was the entire reason for not doing this. The liberal construction given to wage hour also should have, by itself, precluded this approach.
Second, more importantly, reading the statute as a whole and noting that the statute of limitations explicitly included overtime claims in it should have been another red flag tip-off that this motion was destined for failure.
If the impetus for the motion was to buy time for the employer to come into compliance, that is one thing. But, if not, I am left to wonder the reason for doing it…