U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Verdict Awarding Unpaid Overtime to Class of Employees Represented by Nichols Kaster and Donati Law

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit yesterday affirmed the jury verdict in Monroe v. FTS USA, approving an award of backpay to a group of around 300 cable installers represented by Nichols Kaster, PLLP and Donati Law, PLLC. The installers proved at trial that the company engaged in a time-shaving scheme where employees were required to under-report their overtime hours.

In a decision authored by Judge Stranch, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s certification of the FLSA collective as well as the jury’s findings of liability and damages. The court strongly reaffirmed the use of representative testimony to establish liability for non-testifying plaintiffs in FLSA cases. The court noted that “[o]ur sister circuits overwhelmingly recognize the propriety of using representative testimony to establish a pattern of violations that include similarly situated employees who did not testify.” The court explicitly found that testimony from 17 representative plaintiffs (about 5% of the class) and 6 managers, along with documentary evidence, was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict.

The Sixth Circuit also affirmed the liability finding, holding that the “estimated-average” approach used to calculate damages for the non-testifying plaintiffs was acceptable. The court explained that under the Supreme Court’s decision in Anderson v. Mount Clemens Pottery, any inaccuracy in this approach did not bar recovery:

Mount Clemens’s burden-shifting framework, in conjunction with the estimated-average approach, functioned here as envisioned. Seventeen technicians working at various locations testified and were cross-examined as to the number of unrecorded hours they worked, allowing the jury to infer reasonably the average weekly unpaid hours worked by each. Testifying technicians were similarly situated to and representative of nontestifying technicians, as specified by the district court’s instructions to the jury, and thus the average of these weekly averages applied to nontestifying technicians.

“This is an important vindication for a group of employees who were not paid for all their time worked,” said Adam Hansen, who argued the appeal for the workers.

 “Allowing a company to systematically short-change its workers but evade collective liability would undermine the core principle that employees must be paid for all their hours worked," added William Ryan, who represented the employees at trial and on appeal. "It's important that companies follow the rules of the road."

The Sixth Circuit remanded the case to correct an error in the calculation of damages, but concluded that a new trial was not necessary.

Nichols Kaster attorneys Rachhana T. Srey, Anna P. Prakash, and Adam W. Hansen, together with Donati Law attorneys William B. Ryan and Bryce W. Ashby, represented the employees. The case is Monroe, et al. v. FTS USA et al., Case Number 14-6063 (6th Cir. Mar. 2, 2016).