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Media Alerts - Souryavong v. Lackawanna County - Third Circuit
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September 25, 2017
  Souryavong v. Lackawanna County - Third Circuit
Headline: Employees Did Not Provide Sufficient Evidence to Prove a Willful Violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") or Abuse of Discretion in Calculating Attorney's Fees.

Area of Law: Labor Law

Issue(s) Presented: (1) Whether Souryavong and Rolon provided sufficient evidence to prove that Lackawanna County's non-payment of overtime was a willful violation of the FLSA; and (2) whether the District Court abused its discretion by improperly calculating attorney's fees?

Brief Summary: In June 2013, Michael Souryavong and Nelson Rolon filed a complaint alleging non-payment of overtime. They worked two part-time jobs for Lackawanna County accumulating over 40 hours per pay period that went unnoticed by the County. At trial, Souryavong and Rolon presented limited evidence to prove the County's awareness of its FLSA violations. The District Court, therefore, granted the County's motion that argued the lack evidence for the jury to consider if the County willfully violated the FLSA. This is important because a jury finding of a willful violation of the FLSA would have permitted a larger award of damages.

Souryavong, Rolon, and Velez were awarded some damages for the violations by the County that included the award of attorney's fees. The District Court in its opinion significantly reduced the calculated attorney's fees by reducing the estimated hours and hourly rate of work for attorney Pollick. The attorney's fees were further diminished when the court considered the awarded relief.

Extended Summary: Souryavong and Rolon worked two separate part-time jobs for Lackawanna County. The County tracked and paid these employees for the individual jobs. In 2011, the County became aware of its failure to consider the hours in aggregate and thus of its failure to pay employees overtime.

At the trial, Souryavong and Rolon presented limited evidence including: the documentation of non-payment, the testimony of the County's general awareness of FLSA standards, and the email first addressing the issue. Willful violations of FLSA, however, require a more specific awareness by an employer concerning the legality of its actions. The evidence indicated only a general awareness of overtime issues and not specifically a violation of the FLSA. Further, Souryavong and Rolon only provided evidence of overtime violations before the County was aware of its non-payment of overtime. For these reasons the District Court correctly concluded that plaintiffs had failed to prove a willful FLSA violation.

Souryavong and Rolon still obtained a favorable result at trial for the County's actual FLSA violation and were awarded attorney's fees, also contested on appeal. Pollick, attorney for Souryavong and Rolon, argued that the District Court abused its discretion by lowering the estimated hours worked, the hourly rate, and the consideration of the awarded damages. The Supreme Court has held that courts should calculate attorney's fees according a "lodestar" method that considers several objective factors. The Court also held that after calculating the lodestar amount, courts may take into account other factors not included in the lodestar approach to determine a reasonable fee. Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542 (2010). The Circuit Court concluded that the District Court properly followed the lodestar method, and that other factors considered in making the award, including evidence of attorney compensation in the same region for matters of similar stature, were properly supported by the record.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/153895p.pdf .

Panel: Ambro, Vanaskie, and Restrepo. Circuit Judges

Argument Date: March 28. 2017

Date of Issued Opinion: September 20, 2017

Docket Numbers: Nos. 15-3895 & 16-2214

Decided: Affirmed.

Case Alert Author: Nina F. del Valle

Counsel: Cynthia L. Pollick, Counsel for Appellants; and Harry T. Coleman, Counsel for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Vanaskie

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mark Rahdert

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/25/2017 11:50 AM     3rd Circuit  

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