In Florida, where state law only obligates employers to pay minimum wage (but not overtime) and FLSA litigation remains rampant, the FLSA limitations period is of particular importance in overtime disputes, particularly in regard to whether the limitations period is extended from two to three years based on a finding that the violation was “willful.” 29 U.S.C. § 255. In a recent decision, a Florida judge rejected a plaintiff’s attempt to extend the limitations period with respect to her misclassification overtime claim by alleging willfulness in an effort to render the claim timely. Kirkland-Brown v. Amelia Island Care Ctr., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82057 (M.D. Fla. June 13, 2012).
Kirkland-Brown concerned Plaintiff’s position at Defendant as a Residential Services Coordinator. Defendant classified her as exempt from overtime under the FLSA pursuant to the executive exemption. Because her lawsuit was brought more than two years after her separation from employment, her claim was untimely absent a finding of willfulness. Because the plaintiff performed some duties that could be considered exempt– such as processing employee leave requests, counseling employees and disciplining employees “when necessary” – Defendant had “ample reason to [classify Plaintiff as exempt] based on the management duties Plaintiff performed.” Thus, since any misclassification based on Defendant’s analysis of these duties would not, in the court’s view, have been willful, the court dismissed her claim.
Kirkland-Brown highlights the fact-specific nature of each FLSA claim with respect to job duties, employer actions and even the timing of the litigation. Experienced FLSA counsel is necessary to analyze these issues and prepare an effective and cost-efficient defense strategy. This decision shows the benefit of a reasoned analysis even if the ultimate exemption decision may have been incorrect.