WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling last week, upheld a lower court's ruling dismissing as moot a Fair Labor Standards Act overtime lawsuit where the employer made an offer of judgment to the plaintiff for the amount she sought in her claim.

In Genesis Healthcare Corporation et al. v. Laura Symczyk, Symczyk, a former registered nurse at Pennypack Center in Philadelphia, sued under the FLSA on behalf of herself and "other employees similarly situated."

Symczyk alleged that her employer violated the FLSA by automatically deducting 30 minutes of time worked per shift for meal breaks for certain employees, even when the employees performed compensable work during those breaks.

Symczyk, who remained the sole plaintiff throughout the proceedings, sought statutory damages for the alleged violations.

When her employer answered the complaint, it simultaneously served Symczyk with an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. The offer included $7,500 for alleged unpaid wages, in addition to "such reasonable attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses... as the court may determine."

Symczyk ignored the offer of judgment, and it expired.

After which, a district court found that no other individuals joined her suit and that the Rule 68 offer fully satisfied her claim. The court therefore concluded her suit was moot and dismissed it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, holding that Symczyk's individual claim was moot but that her collective action was not.

It explained that allowing defendants to "pick off" named plaintiffs before certification with calculated Rule 68 offers would frustrate the goals of collective actions.

The Third Circuit remanded the case to the district court, allowing Symczyk to seek "conditional certification," which, if successful, would relate back to the date of her complaint.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in its April 16 opinion, held that because Symczyk had no personal interest in representing putative, unnamed claimants, nor any other continuing interest that would preserve her suit from mootness, her suit was appropriately dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Justice Clarence Thomas authored the majority's opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito joined in the opinion.

Justice Elena Kagan dissented and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

In its 12-page decision, the majority declined to rule on an underlying issue of whether the unaccepted offer mooted the claim.

Appellate circuits are split on the question.

The plaintiff in this case conceded the point in both the district court and Third Circuit, therefore she could not properly raise the issue before the nation's high court.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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