U.S. Supreme Court won't decide scope of wage-and-hour class actions

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday again declined to settle a split among appeals courts over whether federal wage law allows workers to bring nationwide class action-style lawsuits, turning away a case involving FedEx Corp.

The justices denied a petition by FedEx security specialist Christa Fischer for review of a July ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said because her overtime pay lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania, only workers from that state could join.

Companies and business groups have been pushing courts to limit nationwide wage-and-hour lawsuits, citing a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that said people who lived outside California could not join a product liability case filed in state court against Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.

The 3rd Circuit in the FedEx case joined the 6th and 8th Circuits, which in 2021 had both said courts lack jurisdiction over residents of other states.

But the 1st and 7th Circuits have gone the other way, saying the wage law was designed to enable large-scale collective actions against companies operating in multiple states. The Supreme Court last year declined to take up appeals of those cases.

Tennessee-based FedEx did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did lawyers for Fischer.

Fischer in a 2019 lawsuit in Philadelphia federal court alleged FedEx misclassified security specialists across the country as independent contractors rather than its employees and deprived them of overtime pay required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Under the FLSA, workers can file "collective actions" that are similar to class action lawsuits but have some key procedural differences, including that other workers must opt in to be included.

A federal judge in 2020 refused to allow FedEx employees from New York and Maryland to join the case, citing the Bristol-Myers ruling. The 3rd Circuit upheld that ruling last year, prompting Fischer's Supreme Court petition.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country's largest business lobby, had urged the 3rd Circuit to rule for FedEx. In a 2021 amicus brief, the group said allowing nationwide FLSA lawsuits would subject employers to uncertainty and encourage workers to "forum shop" by filing in plaintiff-friendly courts.

The case is Fischer v. Federal Express Corp, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 22-396.

For Fischer: Adam Hansen of Apollo Law

For FedEx: David Salmons of Morgan Lewis & Bockius

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