Are two lawsuits better than one? Not for the employer, I can tell you that. A very interesting case is working its way through the federal courts now, where the US Department of Labor wants to take over a private lawsuit that has been filed alleging Fair Labor Standards Act violations. The government is contending that its case takes supremacy over the private action. The case is entitled Blair v. Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services, LLC, and was filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The DOL (which has been allowed to intervene) told the Judge that its suit should be the only one to proceed so as to avoid needless and duplicative litigation. The DOL asserted (in its motion to dismiss the other suit) that “to avoid a multiplicity of litigation by employees for essentially the same violations, once the Secretary of Labor files a suit, any private right of action of employees is terminated and abolished.” The DOL’s lawsuit alleges that fifteen or more nursing homes have violated the FLSA by not paying overtime or keeping proper records of employee time and pay.
The suit, commenced in February 2018, charged overtime violations. Then, the DOL filed its suit against the Company in November 2018, charging the same violations. Then, to further complicate matters, another employee filed another suit, in December 2018, making the same claims. The Judge consolidated the two private suits in March 2020. The Judge noted that since the agency’s charges and those of the employees sought the same relief, the USDOL was compelled to become involved.
The agency asserted that the December lawsuit, filed after the USDOL filed its suit, should be dismissed as well as because more workers had opted into the consolidated case. The agency also requested that the Court put into abeyance all of the state law claims, as the workers would receive more relief under the government’s case. The agency pointed out that “courts have consistently concluded that the plain meaning of the Act terminates an employee’s right to bring an action or join an existing action once the Secretary has filed a complaint.”
I wonder if the workers are overjoyed that the USDOL seeks to take over their case. People often have a special bond with their lawyers, the lawyers they have retained, as opposed to the lawyers from the government that they do not know. The government’s strategy may also differ (perhaps not radically) from that undertaken by the original lawyers. On the other hand, maybe the employees don’t care who represents them, as long as they get what they feel they are owed.
That is, for them, the bottom line…