Louisiana Record

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Class status granted in former Grand Isle Shipyard worker's wage case

By Elizabeth Alt | May 14, 2018

NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on May 3 conditionally granted a former Grand Isle Shipyard employee’s request for class certification in his lawsuit alleging the company violated wage laws by not paying employees for overtime work.

Judge Lance M. Africk wrote the order for the court to conditionally approve the certification of a class the plaintiff Wesley Sandlin termed the “Misclassification Class” for employees he says were misclassified as salaried-exempt and not paid for overtime work.

Sandlin filed the lawsuit against his former employer, Grand Isle Shipyard, claiming it violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which “mandates the payment of minimum wage and overtime compensation to covered employees.” Sandlin proposed two classes: an “Off-the-Clock Class,” which defined workers known as “Life Representatives” required to work unpaid overtime whenever they worked over 50 hours a week” and a “Misclassified Class” that defined Life Representatives who were misclassified from “from October 2014 through April 2016.”

Africk denied Sandlin’s “self-styled 'Off-the-Clock Class,'” agreeing with Grand Isle that Sandlin’s complaint did not have any factual allegations to this class.

Grand Isle opposed Sandlin’s motion to certify a class action, stating there were a limited number of people interested in joining the class and that it had paid fair wages. 

Africk wrote in a footnote of the order that the court was unaware until proceedings that two months after Sandlin’s suit was filed, Grand Isle contacted employees to offer an agreement telling workers that although Grand Isle did not accept any liability for the pending suit, if the employees signed the agreement not to enter Sandlin’s lawsuit they would pay the employees a sum. Africk noted that this was essentially a waiver, not an agreement. “[T]he Supreme Court has concluded that the FLSA forbids waiver of the right to statutory wages or to liquidated damages."

Grand Isle argued that they should be allowed to use this “executed agreement to prevent a Life Representative from joining this case.”

Africk stated in the order that although Grand Isle had “put forward an argument to the Court that was dependent on the enforceability of the agreement. Further, it in fact cited case law concerning the enforceability of FLSA settlements…To the extent that Grand Isle did not adequately brief the issue, it has only itself to blame.”

Africk wrote Sandlin’s complaint met the “low bar of conditional certification” and conditionally certified the class action for any life representatives who work or have worked for Grand Isle from May 2015 to April 2016.

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana