Chief cook wins wages lawsuit

So, you don’t like class-action lawsuits? Then 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 Line 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, which routinely exceeded 100 percent of his base income. John sued for unearned overtime and sought class-action certification so that his lawsuit could benefit other crew.

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, the lawsuit was successfully certified as a class action and the class was awarded damages in excess of $800,000.

On June 25, 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 can be very effective at righting a wrong in one broad stroke as opposed to scores of individual lawsuits.

Underway and making way.

About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at john@fulweilerlaw.com . His website is www.saltwaterlaw.com.

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