Brief Filed for Underpaid Workers in FLSA Appeal to Fourth Circuit

In Simmons v. United Mortgage and Loan Investment, LLC, we have filed this opening brief with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in this wage and hour case. The plaintiffs are Charlotte-based Junior Asset Managers for a mortgage company who were not paid overtime even though they worked more than 40 hours per week. They brought claims under the FLSA and NC Wage and Hour law based on the failure to pay overtime. The primary issue is whether the plaintiffs will be able to pursue their case as a collective and class action on behalf the other underpaid workers at the company. The defendants have tried to short-circuit the collective/class action process by tendering a limited settlement offer before other workers could be notified of the case. Ann Groninger, Burton Craige, and Narendra Ghosh are representing the plaintiffs.

Here is a summary of our argument to the Court:

"The four named plaintiffs in this case brought suit to vindicate their rights and the rights of their fellow Junior Asset Managers to receive the full amount of compensation and overtime pay to which they are entitled under federal and North Carolina law. To do so, plaintiffs diligently pursued their FLSA claims as a collective action under the FLSA and their NCWHA claims as a Rule 23 class action. These procedural vehicles are designed to make it judicially and economically feasible for many plaintiffs to litigate common claims that otherwise could not practicably be brought as small individual cases. As the Supreme Court and several circuits have recognized, the objective of collective and class actions would be thwarted if defendants are allowed to “pick off” class representatives by making an offer of judgment to named plaintiffs and mooting the case before plaintiffs can seek certification of the class or collective action. The District Court erred in permitting defendants to use just this tactic, and in finding the case moot based on defendants’ purported offer of judgment.

"Following the other circuits that have addressed this issue, the Court should instead conclude that because plaintiffs promptly and without undue delay moved for conditional certification of their claims under the FLSA, defendants’ settlement offer – even if deemed a proper offer of judgment for full relief – cannot moot this action because plaintiffs’ motion “relates back” to the date plaintiffs’ filed their complaint.
"This principle applies with equal force to plaintiffs’ class action claims under the NCWHA. Plaintiffs were unable to seek certification of the NCWHA class because the District Court erroneously dismissed their NCWHA claims. Even though the court acknowledged that plaintiffs would have stated valid NCWHA claims if they had worked for defendants in 2007 or 2008, the court ignored the allegations of plaintiff Pruitt’s work during this period, and then inexplicably did not allow plaintiffs to amend their complaint with more detailed allegations regarding Pruitt and additional named plaintiffs who worked in the relevant time period. This Court should conclude that plaintiffs have alleged viable claims under the NCWHA, and that they should be allowed a reasonable period to seek certification of the NCWHA Class before the claims can be mooted by defendants’ settlement offer.

"Finally, defendants’ settlement offer did not constitute a proper offer of judgment for full relief because the offer was not for a definite sum, was ambiguous as to its terms, was not left open for at least ten days, and was not clarified before plaintiffs filed their motion for conditional certification of the collective action. Therefore, the District Court erred in concluding that the settlement offer mooted the case."