The article highlights the importance to workers’ rights of a groundbreaking ruling obtained by Wanta Thome Jozwiak & Wanta attorneys in a case in federal district court in North Carolina. The court held that employers in North Carolina may not require workers to waive claims under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (NCWHA) as part of a general release of claims.
The Charlotte Observer recently published an article highlighting the importance to workers’ rights of a groundbreaking ruling obtained by Wanta Thome Jozwiak & Wanta attorneys in a case in federal district court in North Carolina. The ruling came in Rehberg et al. v. Flowers Foods, Inc., et al., Court File No. 12-00596. The court held that employers in North Carolina may not require workers to waive claims under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (NCWHA) as part of a general release of claims. According to the court, any such waivers transgress the public policy embedded in the NCWHA that employers should not be permitted to contract around proper payment of wages to employees.
In Rehberg, the firm represents a class of bakery products distributors who are challenging their classification as independent contractors. The distributors claim that Flowers Foods and its subsidiary in North Carolina have improperly denied them overtime wages and other benefits owed to them as employees in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act. Flowers Foods had argued that the claims of many distributor class members were barred because they had signed general releases at the time they left the company. The court disagreed, finding general releases void under state law.
“The judges order this week  has broader implications for workers in North Carolina,” reported The Charlotte Observer. Specifically, the court found that employers cannot require workers to sign general liability releases that waive their rights under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act. “That is an issue that has never been decided in North Carolina under state law,” said class counsel Shawn Wanta, partner at Wanta Thome, to The Charlotte Observer. Importantly, the court’s decision brings North Carolina state law in line with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which already prohibits employers from requiring workers to sign agreements releasing their rights to overtime pay, minimum wage and other rights and benefits employees are entitled by law.
The article also noted the broader implications for Flowers Foods, as this is the first of 19 related cases across the United States challenging the company’s misclassification of its distributors as independent contractors.
The next step in the case is to determine a schedule for trial.
Click here to read the full article in The Charlotte Observer, “Judge Adds Protections for N.C. Workers in Employee Suit Against Bakery.”