The FLSA establishes federal minimum-wage, maximum hour, and overtime guarantees that cannot be modified by contract. Section 16(b) of the FLSA gives employees the right to bring a private cause of action on their own behalf and on behalf of “other employees similarly situated” for specified violations of the FLSA. A suit brought on behalf of other employees is known as a “collective action.”
In Symczyk, plaintiff filed a collective action under FLSA on behalf of herself and “other employees similarly situated.” Defendants served an offer of judgment and Ms. Symczyk’s individual claim was later extinguished. Finding that no other individuals had joined plaintiff’s suit, the District Court held that once plaintiff’s individual claim became moot, the entire lawsuit became moot. The Third Circuit agreed Ms. Symczyk’s claim was moot but allowed the collective action to move forward, reasoning that a dismissal would allow defendants to “pick off” named plaintiffs before certification and frustrate the goals of collective actions. The Supreme Court reversed.
In reversing, the Supreme Court pointed out the fundamental difference between collective actions and class actions:
- A putative class acquires an independent legal status once it is certified under Rule 23.
- By contrast, under the FLSA, conditional certification does not produce a class with an independent legal status, or join additional parties to the action.
As such, once a collective action plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot, the entire suit becomes moot. Because of the fundamental differences between class actions and collective actions, plaintiffs in collective actions cannot rely on established class action law to prevent dismissal.