Litigation

Because government enforcement resources are limited, private lawsuits brought by workers and advocates are a key component of our nation's system for enforcing workplace standards.  NELP brings and supports strategic wage and hour litigation in a range of industries including garment, janitorial, home health care, delivery services, and retail. 

  • In partnership with workers centers and unions, NELP has engaged in direct co-counseling on a range of wage and hour cases supporting organizing drives and industry reforms.  These include a successful class action case brought on behalf of home health care workers not paid for the time spent traveling between households in Pennsylvania, and a range of cases for cafeteria and retail workers required to work off the clock and through meal and rest breaks. 

  • NELP has used its expertise in subcontracting and independent contractors in most of the leading circuit cases establishing joint employer relationships in the FLSA, and in major litigation involving independent contractor relationships.  The broad scope of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and most state wage-and-hour laws means that more employers should be held responsible for unpaid wages, including joint employers and subcontractors.  In addition, too many employees are called "independent contractors" by their employers and deemed outside of the protection of wage and hour rules.  We also promote model litigation in these areas via the National Wage Hour Clearinghouse, and provide technical assistance to practitioners.  

  • Garment, day labor, retail, construction, agriculture, home health care and janitorial jobs are among the lowest-paying in our country, and are also seeing growing wage and hour violations.  These jobs are dominated by immigrant workers often afraid to come forward to complain of underpayment.  NELP brings direct litigation and assists others around the country bringing lawsuits in these under-enforced jobs dominated by immigrant workers. 

Leading NELP-supported Joint Employer and Independent Contactor Decisions:

  • Lopez v. Silverman, 14 F. Supp.2d 405 (SDNY 1998), holds for the first time that a garment manufacturer is responsible for the unpaid wages of its contractors.

  • Ansoumana et al v. Gristede's Operating Corp., 201 F.R.D. 81 (SDNY 2001) and 255 F. Supp.2d 184 (SDNY 2003), approves "hybrid" class action and FLSA opt-in class and finds joint employer liability for minimum wage and overtime violations by retail stores hiring immigrant delivery workers via labor brokers.

  • Zheng v. Liberty Apparel, 355 F.3d 61 (2d Cir. 2003), finds garment manufacturer jointly responsible for unpaid wages of its subcontractor's workers.

  • Reyes v. Remington Seed Co., 495 F.3d 403 (7th Cir. 2007), finds seed corn company responsible for unpaid wages of its farm labor contractor's workers.

  • Coverall North America v. Com'r of Div. of Unemployment Ins., 447 Mass. 852 (MA. S.J.C. 2006), finding immigrant janitorial "franchisees" eligible for unemployment insurance.

See also our work in the area of Immigrants and Work.

For more information on our work in this area, please contact Cathy Ruckelshaus, cruckelshaus@nelp.org.