Chicago Business Litigation Attorneys Watching SCOTUS Overtime Review

Chicago employment litigation may spike as workers aim to cash in on recent court settlements that involved large chunks of change for unpaid overtime.

Now, Chicago business litigation attorneys are closely following the U.S. Supreme Court's review of Christopher v. Smithkline Beecham Corp, a class action suit in which sales representatives for the prescription drug distributor GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) say they were not paid overtime to which they were entitled. GSK, however, says that as sales representatives, these individuals are exempt under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Being that this case is to be decided by the highest court in the land - probably by early summer - it has received more press than other cases. But the fact of the matter is, there has been an explosion of overtime pay cases in recent years.

Notably, there was the Mario Batali case, the celebrity chef who forked over $5.2 million to employees who claimed unpaid tips and overtime. Then there was the Norvartis AG settlement in which the Swiss drug maker settled for nearly $100 million with its sales representatives over similar complaints.

The Department of Labor reports that overtime cases that it has overseen have increased an astonishing 36 percent in a single year. In 2010, there were about 8,800 cases with $107 million in wages at stake, versus nearly 12,000 the following year with $140 million at stake.

In federal courts, these same types of cases were up 15 percent in a single year.

Business litigation attorneys in Chicago and throughout the country say that wage and hour lawsuits have spiked a jaw-dropping 325 percent since 2000.

Some have labeled these huge increases "show-me-the-money fever."

Those who speak on behalf of employee interests say there is an ever-intensifying pressure to work longer hours, while there overtime protections are markedly decreasing, with employers lumping more and more workers into categories that are exempt from receiving overtime pay.

However, the greater issue may be the vast confusion when it comes to overtime laws. First, we need to look at when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed - nearly 75 years ago. So much technology has pushed work environments to greatly evolve. In fact, very few workplaces look anywhere near like they did in 1938. That makes application of certain aspects of the labor laws difficult in a modern workplace.

What's more, the laws are continuing to become more stringent. This is apparent in the Obama administration's recent proposal to revise the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow in-home care workers the ability to receive overtime pay as well. Another is a proposed federal law that would raise the income level for those who would be entitled to overtime - regardless of what their job classification is. Right now, the cap stands at $24,000 annually. That would more than double to $54,000 under the Rebuild America Act.

What's important to note here is that these are difficult times. The vast majority of employers want to do right by their workers - but forcing them to break the bank isn't the answer.

Jeremy A. Gibson & Associates is a law firm dedicated to business litigation in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois. Call 877-452-4529 for a free consultation.

Additional Resources:
Off the clock: Employees fighting for overtime pay, By Eve Tahmincioglu, MSNBC