7th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of FLSA Wage Lawsuit

On December 12, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a group of flight attendants, who alleged that their employer's compensation policy--paying for their work in the air but not on the ground--violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and various state and local wage laws.  Hirst et al. v. SkyWest, Inc., et al., Nos. 17-3643 & 17-3660 (7th Cir. 12/12/2018).  The district court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, finding that the flight attendants had failed to allege a FLSA violation.  The fight attendants plausibly alleged that they were not paid for certain hours of work.  However, the 7th Circuit agreed with the other federal circuits, that under the FLSA, the relevant unit for determining a wage violation is not wages per hour, but the average hourly wage across a workweek.  Because the flight attendants failed to allege even a single workweek in which one them received less than the applicable minimum wage, the 7th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their FLSA claims.

The FLSA claims failed at the pleading stage of the litigation because none of the flight attendants alleged a single workweek in which they were paid, on average, less than the federal minimum wage under FLSA.  The flight attendants sued their employer in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that the employer violated the FLSA and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law by failing to pay them minimum wage.  The district court determined that, in assessing violations of the federal minimum wage law, an employee's wage is calculated as the average hourly wage across the workweek.  In its decision, the 7th Circuit adopted the per-workweek measure.  It found persuasive several FLSA overtime pay cases in which other federal circuits established a minimum pleading standard for FLSA overtime claims.  FLSA plaintiffs must at least allege facts demonstrating that there was at least one workweek in which they were not paid overtime wages.  The 7th Circuit stated that the same principles for pleading overtime pay violations apply to minimum wage violations.  Thus, under federal pleading standards, plaintiffs alleging a federal minimum wage violation must allege facts sufficient to raise a plausible inference that there was at least one workweek in which they were underpaid.  The 7th Circuit's decision in SkyWest will significantly impact FLSA overtime and minimum wage litigation in the Northern District of Illinois by finally establishing a specific pleading standard for FLSA overtime and minimum wage claims.