SEPTA agrees to $13.1 million settlement in bus, trolley drivers’ FLSA unpaid overtime lawsuit

by Michael Heygood

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has agreed to a $13.1 million settlement with a group of bus and trolley drivers who sued the transit provider in a collective action against under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The lawsuit alleged that SEPTA had violated federal labor laws under the FLSA by failing to pay drivers for pre-shift work that was required by the agency.

The 2,300 current and former drivers involved in the lawsuit against SEPTA filed their claim against the  transit agency in 2011 in a Pennsylvania district court. According to the lawsuit, SEPTA failed to compensate drivers for daily, pre-trip inspections of their vehicles. The drivers alleged that even though these inspections were required by the company, they were forced to conduct them before the start of their shifts while they were still off the clock. SEPTA had argued that these pre-shift inspections were a part of the driver’s normal job responsibilities and should not entitle them to additional pay.

In October 2012, U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky dismissed the drivers’ lawsuit against SEPTA, claiming that the pre-shift inspections were covered under a collective bargaining agreement with the transit company, and as such, were not subject to litigation. Judge Slomsky stated that arbitrators, not courts, were responsible for interpreting collective bargaining agreements. As a result, according to Judge Slomsky, the drivers were not eligible to file a lawsuit under the FLSA. In August 2013, a three judge panel with the Third Circuit court of appeals reversed Judge Slomsky’s ruling, stating that the drivers’ lawsuits were subject to federal labor laws under the FLSA and, as such, could move forward.

In its ruling, the Third Circuit panel clarified a previous ruling in Vadino v. A. Valey Engineers, which stated that in FLSA lawsuits that involve disputed interpretations of a collective bargaining agreement, employees must first go through the arbitration process before proceeding with a lawsuit in federal court under the FLSA. However, because the bus and trolley drivers did not allege that SEPTA had committed any violations of the collective bargaining agreement, but rather that their FLSA claim existed independently of any rights under the agreement, the Third Circuit found that the SEPTA drivers’ cases were different.

Based on this determination, the Third Circuit ruled that the drivers’ FLSA claim could move forward, and remanded the case back to the lower court. SEPTA and the bus and trolley drivers filed a joint motion asking Judge Slomsky to approve the settlement agreement. In the motion, the SEPTA and the drivers stated that $13.1 million settlement was fair and adequate to cover the wage and hour dispute between the two parties.

Unpaid Overtime Disputes under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Many lawsuits filed against companies who violate the FLSA involve allegations similar to the collective action against SEPTA in which workers were forced to do their jobs “off the clock” without pay, including donning and doffing, mandatory unpaid job training, or being forced to work without proper breaks. Other FLSA lawsuits have alleged that workers were deprived of proper overtime compensation because of processing errors or misclassification of FLSA non-exempt employees as exempt.

Workers who have been subjected to wage and hour violations such as these that violate federal labor laws under the FLSA may be entitled to file a lawsuit and receive compensation for their unpaid wages, as well as additional damages. The first step in filing an FLSA lawsuit is to secure the help of attorneys with the experience and training to properly handle your claim.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have represented numerous plaintiffs in various class actions or multi-district litigation cases involving commercial litigation and other legal matters in Texas and other jurisdictions across the U.S. Our attorneys are trial lawyers in the truest sense of the term, having tried hundreds of cases to verdict and achieved settlements in hundreds more. In total, the attorneys with Heygood, Orr & Pearson have achieved verdicts and settlements for our clients totaling more than $200 million.

For a free legal consultation about your case to learn more about filing an FLSA lawsuit, contact Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.

by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.