Lawsuits alleging that U.S. companies failed to pay white-collar workers required overtime have tripled since 1997, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said Wednesday.
White-collar workers filed 102 overtime class-action suits in 2003 compared with 31 in 1997, according to the office, which tracks federal litigation. Groups that sued included managers with few managerial duties who had been told they were ineligible for time-and-a-half pay after 40 hours.
The misuse of manager titles and forced unpaid overtime have contributed to the litigation increase, said James Rollins, a lawyer in Atlanta who has filed overtime suits for workers. The white-collar workforce also has benefited recently from more favorable overtime rulings by courts.
"Unlike every other employment case, the burden is on the employer to prove it did the right thing," said Rollins, referring to overtime suits. Companies are required to keep detailed records about a worker's time and duties, he said.
U.S. companies spend more than $2 billion a year on litigating overtime disputes, according to the Labor Department. In January, a judge permitted some Dollar General Corp. managers to proceed in a class action that seeks $100 million in overtime pay from the discount chain.
The Labor Department has drafted new rules that would guarantee overtime for salaried workers making less than $23,660. Employees earning more than that, up to $100,000, would get overtime unless they performed executive, administrative or professional work.
The new regulations, which require congressional approval, were rejected by the Senate on May 4 and are scheduled to be negotiated in a conference committee with members of the House.