In Florida, if you bring a claim against your employer for not paying you for the hours you worked, or the right amount of overtime, your claim is governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA. When you file a claim, your attorneys can also make a claim for the fees they are owed for representing you. This means that you don’t have to pay your attorney from what you recover for what you weren’t paid. If your employer owed you $1,000.00 and you won, you would get your $1,000.00 in full. Your attorney would instead get paid for the time she spends representing you, which doesn’t come out of your recovery.
It doesn’t work the same way for the employer. Even if the employer wins the lawsuit, you don’t owe anything to your employer for its attorneys’ fees. FLSA is designed to protect employees from any potential of owing their employers money when they are suing to collect money they were owed in the first place. If you have a claim for unpaid wages or overtime, but you don’t win, you won’t owe anything in attorneys’ fees to the other side. The law is designed to help employees bring claims without fear of owing attorneys’ fees to their employers if they lose.
However, your attorneys may not always get all their fees. Recently, a decision came out of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit which reduced the amount of fees the attorneys representing the employer could collect. In Walker v. Iron Sushi, LLC, the 11th Circuit affirmed the trial court’s order reducing the amount of attorneys’ fees sought by the employers attorneys from $27,627.99 to less than a third of that – $7,640. The fees were found to be largely duplicative as there were three firms representing the employees and all charging for the same work, or they charged for researching basic principles of law under FLSA that most attorneys familiar with FLSA would have already known. Most of the hours spent on settling the case were also cut by the court and deemed not to be things that were owed in attorney’s fees. This was because the employers offered to settle the amounts owed to the employees for unpaid wages originally in the amount of $4,260.16. Ultimately, the employees’ claims settled for $5,111.42. Given that there was less then a $1,000.00 difference between the original settlement amount and the actual settlement amount, the Court had a hard time believing that a reasonable amount of attorneys’ fees for the claim was over $27,000.00.
This is an example of a case where the attorneys would have been better off settling their fees rather than fight for more in court. The point is, claims for unpaid wages under FLSA can be tricky and come with many concerns, including attorneys’ fees. If you have questions about an unpaid wage claim, either as an employee or as an employer, you should speak to an attorney who is familiar with FLSA and knows how the attorney fees will play a role in settling any claim.