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More reasons to be nervous about overtime pay suits

Wage and hour suits continue to mount, and not just in Virginia federal courts.

Data from the Federal Judicial Center indicates suits for overtime pay and other wage violations were up nearly 5 percent nationwide, during the most recent 12-month period ending last March.

This is the seventh straight year of increases in federal court wage and hour suits, according to a report by Seyfarth Shaw LLP. During the past decade, federal court wage and hour suits have mushroomed by 237 percent, and risen by 438 percent since 2000.

Seyfarth Shaw lawyer Richard Alfred speculated that the numbers would be substantially greater if wage and hour lawsuits filed in state courts under state pay practices were added.

But maybe not in Virginia, as the General Assembly defunded administration of the Virginia Payment of Wage Act in 2012, according to the most recent annual report of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.

What has spurred the huge increase in filings? Basically, success begets success. As publicity increases about different employee groups winning pay claims, from police officers to retail workers to interns of various stripes, more workers realize they may have a claim. And finding a plaintiff’s lawyer is as easy as an Internet search. Then the defendant calls its lawyer. Everybody wins.

Taking a broader view, Alfred also pointed out that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act “is an old statute created for a very different type of economy,” where workers punched in and out of time clocks in manufacturing jobs.

And he describes additional factors to fuel the filing of new claims: tightening standards for class certification means more single and multi-plaintiff suits; talk of raising the minimum wage has refocused attention on overtime pay; and the president has directed DOL to revise its regulations on white-collar exemptions, which could spur a new round of complaints.

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