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Florida, NY Top List Of Busiest Courts For FLSA Suits

Law360—Jacqueline Bell

While the total number of Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits filed in federal courts continues to tick upward, some states that have been longtime hot spots for FLSA litigation actually saw fewer cases filed in 2014, while other jurisdictions experienced a dramatic surge in wage-and-hour claims. Here, Law 360 zeros in on Florida, New York and Texas, and examines the trends reflected on their docket sheets.

Florida

Florida has long been an epicenter of of FLSA litigation, and in 2014, Florida’s Southern District once again saw more new FLSA complaints filed than anywhere else in the country, racking up 1,145 cases.

Florida’s Middle District was the fourth-busiest jurisdiction for FLSA complaints in 2014, with plaintiffs filing 608 cases.

Those totals would be enough to raise eyebrows in almost any other federal court, but in Florida, those numbers were actually down from 2013’s totals. Florida’s Southern District registered a 1.1 percent drop in new FLSA complaints in 2014, while Florida’s Middle District saw a 13.8 percent drop in new filings.

Employment attorneys in Florida report they are seeing a bit of a plateau in cases, after more than a decade's worth of explosive growth in FLSA litigation.

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Judges in Florida who now have years of experience managing the avalanche of new FLSA complaints filed every year apply a practiced eye to these cases, attorneys say, and are diligent about keeping them moving. That level of scrutiny may dissuade a few filers who lack sufficiently fleshed-out complaints or are hoping to secure large attorneys' fees on relatively small disputes because the case lingers in the system.

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But small declines in the numbers of FLSA complaints filed in Florida’s federal courts doesn’t mean that the state will lose its standing as the epicenter of federal wage-and-hour fights anytime soon, attorneys say, noting that they expect the state’s Southern and Middle districts to continue to be crowded with high numbers of FLSA suits.

New York

The Southern District of New York saw a dramatic surge in FLSA litigation in 2014 with 889 new complaints filed, a 35 percent increase from the number of complaints filed in 2013. 

Similarly, the Eastern District of New York experienced an 8 percent increase in new FLSA cases, with 766 complaints lodged on its docket in 2014, making it the third-busiest jurisdiction for FLSA complaints in 2014.

The surge in activity can be chalked up in part to an increase in public education campaigns in New York and efforts by community groups to ensure that all workers know their rights and know they can protect them in court, said Justin Swartz, partner at Outten & Golden LLP, who represents employees.

“There’s an increase in lower-wage workers filing lawsuits to protect their rights,” Swartz said. “More lower-wage workers are being educated on their rights, and more lawyers are willing to represent those workers.”

The sizable hospitality industry in New York City has also been the target of a growing number of wage-and-hour fights in recent years, with high-profile FLSA complaints filed against celebrity chefs accused of improperly paying their restaurant workers.

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Others blame the uptick in FLSA litigation in New York on the large population of lawyers who work in the city, arguing that where there are lots of lawyers, litigation is more likely.

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Texas

Three Texas federal courts made Law360’s list of busiest federal jurisdictions for FLSA litigation in 2014: The Southern District, the Northern District and the Western District. 

The state has long faced a crush of FLSA filings amid the boom in wage-and-hour battles over the past decade, but in 2014, all three of those jurisdictions experienced a drop in complaints.

But attorneys report their wage-and-hour practices have been as busy as ever and say the drop in new filings is likely to be just a blip in the otherwise ferocious pace of new FLSA complaints filed in Texas.

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