Second Circuit Holds FLSA Overtime Allegations Insufficiently Pled

A recent Second Circuit decision, Dejesus v. HF Management Services, illustrates how detailed a federal complaint must be to sufficiently allege overtime violations under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law.

The court upheld the dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint because she did not “plausibly allege that she worked overtime without proper compensation under the FLSA.”

The FLSA provides, in pertinent part:

[N]o employer shall employ any of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, or is employed in an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, for a workweek longer than forty hours unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which [s]he is employed.

“[I]n order to state a plausible FLSA overtime claim, a plaintiff must sufficiently allege 40 hours of work in a given workweek as well as some uncompensated time in excess of the 40 hours.”

Citing to its prior Lundy and Nakahata decisions (which both concluded that the respective plaintiffs did not plausibly allege overtime violations) the court held that plaintiff failed to satisfy her pleading burden:

Dejesus provided less factual specificity than did the plaintiffs in Lundy or Nakahata[.] She did not estimate her hours in any or all weeks or provide any other factual context or content. [H]er complaint was devoid of any numbers to consider beyond those plucked from the statute. She alleged only that in “some or all weeks” she worked more than “forty hours” a week without being paid “1.5” times her rate of compensation, no more than rephrasing the FLSA’s formulation specifically set forth in section 207(a)(1). Whatever the precise level of specificity that was required of the complaint, Dejesus at least was required to do more than repeat the language of the statute. …

Dejesus’s complaint tracked the statutory language of the FLSA, lifting its numbers and rehashing its formulation, but alleging no particular facts sufficient to raise a plausible inference of an FLSA overtime violation. Her FLSA and NYLL claims were therefore inadequate and properly dismissed.

Lundy’s requirement that plaintiffs must allege overtime without compensation in a “given” workweek was not an invitation to provide an all-purpose pleading template alleging overtime in “some or all workweeks.” It was designed to require plaintiffs to provide some factual context that will “nudge” their claim “from conceivable to plausible.” While this Court has not required plaintiffs to keep careful records and plead their hours with mathematical precision, we have recognized that it is employees’ memory and experience that lead them to claim in federal court that they have been denied overtime in violation of the FLSA in the first place. Our standard requires that plaintiffs draw on those resources in providing complaints with sufficiently developed factual allegations.

Though it affirmed the dismissal on the above basis, the Second Circuit found (contrary to the district court) that the plaintiff plausibly alleged that she was the defendant’s “employee” under the FLSA’s very broad definition of that term:

Dejesus detailed where she worked, providing Healthfirst’s address and its corporate purposes. She outlined what her position as a “promoter” generally entailed, describing her responsibilities and the pay structure. And she provided her dates of employment. In addition, she alleged that she was an hourly employee within the meaning of the FLSA. She thus, in our view, adequately pled that she was an employee and Healthfirst was her employee under the FLSA, especially in light of the expansive scope of the definition employed in the statute.

Finally, plaintiff was “not required to plead facts at this stage of the proceedings to support her position that she was a non-exempt employee, that is, one who falls outside of the FLSA’s exemptions” since “[a] claim of exemption under the FLSA is an affirmative defense, and the employer bears the burden of proof in making any such claim.”

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