In a great many wage-hour complaints alleging unpaid overtime or failure to pay minimum wage, plaintiffs will bring suit without identifying any specific instances in which the plaintiffs ever worked unpaid overtime or worked for a period of time without being paid at least the minimum wage. The absence of such basic facts plagues many class action and collective action complaints, in particular. The Ninth Circuit’s recent opinion in Landers v Quality Communications rejects the notion that plaintiffs can survive a motion to dismiss by relying on cookie-cutter allegations. The Ninth Circuit has made it clear that plaintiffs must plead facts in support of their wage-hour claims.
To provide some context to the Landers decision, the Ninth Circuit stated that before the Supreme Court’s decisions in Ashcroft v. Iqbal and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, a complaint for unpaid minimum wages or overtime wages merely had to allege that the employer failed to pay the employee minimum wages or overtime wages. No other facts were necessary at the pleading stage. After Iqbal and Twombly, which discussed what types of facts must be pled in cases where there is no heightened pleading standard, district courts were split. Some required plaintiffs to approximate the overtime hours worked while others have foregone such a requirement. Until Landers, the Ninth Circuit had not addressed the degree of specificity required to state a claim for failure to pay minimum wages or overtime wages.
In Landers, the Ninth Circuit held that, at a minimum, the plaintiff must allege at least one workweek when he or she worked in excess of 40 hours and was not paid for the excess hours in that workweek, or was not paid minimum wages. However, the Ninth Circuit stated that it was not imposing a requirement that a plaintiff alleging failure to pay minimum wages or overtime wages must approximate the number of hours worked without compensation.
The Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Landers is a welcome development for employers. Although the pleading standard would not seem difficult to meet, forcing plaintiffs to plead some facts may help weed out frivolous lawsuits – and, in the class action and collective action context, it may demonstrate the differences in employees’ claims and circumstances.