Much Ado About Mootness

By Tom Kennedy

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a single employee cannot maintain a collective wage and hour action once her own claim has become moot. In Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk, the plaintiff-employee alleged that her employer had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to pay for work performed during meal breaks. The plaintiff alleged she was bringing the claim for herself and others similarly situated, but no one else had yet joined the suit. The employer answered the complaint and made an immediate “offer of judgment” for $7500 plus attorney fees. The offer would have given the plaintiff all the wages owed and penalties owed on her individual claim, but she did not accept the offer. The lower courts ruled that – even though the plaintiff had not accepted or received any of the lost wages – the offer alone made her individual FLSA claim moot. Without addressing whether her claim really was moot, the Supreme Court held that, the individual plaintiff lacked any continuing personal interest in the case and so there was no case to continue. Her plan (or her lawyers’ plan) to represent other unnamed claimants was not enough to save her suit.

This employer bet $7500 on mootness and won big – it won the case and kept the $7500. Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk, No. 11-1059 (U.S. April 16, 2013).

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