I recently handled an overtime lawsuit in Northeastern Pennsylvania in which the defense attorney seemed to view the recovery of attorney’s fees under FLSA Section 16(b) as a privilege rather than a right. And this lawyer is not alone. We get the same reaction from overtime lawyers and attorneys in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
These defense attorneys are simply wrong, and they fail to understand that the FLSA’s fee-recovery provision is absolutely essential to the statute’s enforcement scheme. “A successful FLSA claim carries with it the recovery of attorney’s fees.” Gumecinda v. Ruiz, 808 F.2d 427, 429 (5th Cir. 1987) (citing 29 U.S.C. sec. 216(b)); see also Hilton v. Executive Self Storage Assocs., Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51417, *27 (W.D. Tex. June 18, 2009) (“Fee awards are mandatory for prevailing plaintiffs in FLSA cases.”); Pratter v. Commerce Equities Mgmt., Co., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98795,*6 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 8, 2008) (same). The Congressional purpose behind this provision “is to insure effective access to the judicial process by providing attorney fees for prevailing plaintiffs with wage and hour grievances.” Fegley v. Higgins, 19 F.3d 1126, 1143 (6th Cir. 1994) (internal quotations omitted). As federal courts repeatedly recognize, the FLSA’s fee recovery provision is crucial to Congress’ intent that workers be able to vindicate their FLSA rights through private litigation. See, e.g., Fegley, 19 F.3d at 1134-35 (FLSA fee award “â€˜encourages the vindication of congressionally identified policies and rights’”); United Slate, Tile and Composition Roofers v. G&M Roofing and Sheet Metal Co., Inc., 732 F.2d 495, 502 (6th Cir. 1984) (purpose of FLSA fee award “is to insure effective access to the judicial process”); Maddrix v. Dize, 153 F.2d 274, 275-76 (4th Cir. 1946) (“Obviously Congress intended that the wronged employee should receive his full wages plus the penalty without incurring any expense for legal fees or costs.”); Shannon v. Saab Training USA, LLC, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52677, *8 (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2009) (“To encourage private enforcement of statutory rights under the FLSA, Congress created a fee-shifting provision”).
In Shelton v. Ervin, 830 F.2d 182 (11th Cir. 1987), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals explained that the FLSA’s fee recovery provision is not collateral to the merits of an FLSA lawsuit but, rather, is an “integral part of the merits” of the lawsuit. The Court held: “[FLSA] Section 216 provides for an award of attorney’s fees, as opposed to granting the court discretion in awarding such fees, to the prevailing plaintiff in FLSA cases. In consideration of the language of section 216(b) and its underlying purpose, we hold that attorney fees are an integral part of the merits of FLSA cases and part of the relief sought therein. Thus, a final determination as to the award of attorney fees is required as part of the final appealable judgment.” Id. at 184; accord Ellison v. LeGrande, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14127, *6 n. 3 (M.D. Fla. Feb 24, 2009).
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