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Crew Wins Wage Claim Lawsuit

If you think you don't like class action lawsuits, try this one on for size. Before being injured, deemed unfit for service and discharged in Oman, John was a chief cook aboard a Maersk vessel. Among other things, on being discharged John was paid unearned wages at his base pay rate. That is, he received his base income but not the overtime he routinely earned and which routinely exceeded 100% of his base income. John sued for his unearned overtime and he sought class action certification so that his lawsuit might benefit all similarly situated crewmembers.

John was seeking the overtime pay he would have earned on the voyage had he not been injured. At the trial court level, the issue largely boiled down to whether the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") between John's union and Maersk limited such recovery. The trial judge ruled in favor of John concluding that the CBA did not address overtime pay in calculating unearned wages. Ultimately, at the trial court level John's lawsuit was successfully certified as a class action and the class was awarded damages in excess of $800,000.

On June 25 of this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (that's the federal appellate court that includes the State of New York) upheld the trial court's reasoning in the face of Maersk's appeal. Maersk argued on appeal that overtime pay is not included in the maritime law's definition of "unearned wages." The Second Circuit rejected this argument agreeing that John was entitled to recover in full what he would have made "but for" his injury.

Whether sailing blue water or brown, this decision is a great outcome for crewmembers. It also shows that a class action is awesomely effective at righting a wrong in one broad brush stroke as opposed to dozens upon dozens of individual lawsuits.

You can read a related post written by John K. Fulweiler, Esq. for WorkBoat Magazine by clicking HERE.

Underway and making way.

By John Fulweiler

Fulweiler llc

Categories: General Maritime Law

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