On November 12, 2014, the Ninth Circuit addressed an issue of first impression regarding the pleading specificity required to bring an action for unpaid minimum wages and overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) in Landers v. Quality Communications, Inc. [pdf] This opinion is important because many employers served with FLSA collective actions were not able to obtain basic information about the claims alleged until after responding to the complaint and commencing discovery. In Landers v. Quality Communications, Inc., the Ninth Circuit applied the standards set forth in the Twombly and Iqbal Supreme Court decisions, holding that a plaintiff must plausibly state a claim for failure to pay minimum wages or overtime wages. The Ninth Circuit explained that conclusory allegations that merely recite the statutory language of the FLSA are inadequate and upheld the dismissal of the case.
Plaintiff, a cable services installer, brought suit individually and on behalf of other similarly-situated persons alleging that the employer failed to pay minimum wages and overtime wages in violation of the FLSA. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that: (1) he was subject to “a de facto ‘piecework no overtime’ system” whereby he was not paid 1.5 times his regular rate for work in excess of 40 hours a week; (2) alternatively, the employer did pay some measure of overtime wages, but in an amount less than required by the FLSA; (3) he was not paid minimum wages; and (4) the employer falsified time records to conceal their failure to pay required wages. The employer moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and 12(b)(6).
The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision that the complaint fell “short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief” under Rule 8 as construed in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal. While the Ninth Court did state that detailed factual allegations regarding the number of overtime hours worked was not required to state a plausible claim, it agreed with the First, Second and Third Circuits holding that “a plaintiff asserting a claim to overtime payments must allege that she worked more than forty hours in a given workweek without being compensated for the overtime hours worked during that workweek.” The Ninth Circuit pointed out that absent from Plaintiff’s complaint “was any detail regarding a specific workweek when [Plaintiff] worked in excess of forty hours” and was not paid overtime or minimum wages for that specific workweek.
The Landers v. Quality Communications, Inc. decision signals a heightening of pleading standards by the Court for FLSA actions. As such, employers should evaluate FLSA complaints to determine whether such complaints can be dismissed at the outset of litigation.