On Second Thought, Wage Ordinance Does Not Expand Federal Court's Jurisdiction

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Miami-Dade County's prevailing wage ordinance, which sets minimum wages on publicly funded construction projects, does not authorize plaintiffs to litigate prevailing wage claims in court under the auspices of the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to a recent court decision, Calderon v. Form Works/Baker JV, LLC (S.D. Fla., December 12, 2013).  The opinion is a reversal of the court's prior decision in the case, and a significant victory for employers. 

The defendant was involved with the construction of Marlins Park, a baseball stadium funded with public monies.  The plaintiffs claimed to have worked more than 40 hour per week for the defendant.  The plaintiffs also claimed that the defendant misclassified them into lower-paying job categories in violation of the ordinance, resulting in a shortfall in wages.  The plaintiffs filed suit, asserting claims under the FLSA and the ordinance.  The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, but the court initially denied the motion.  The court reasoned that if the defendant misclassified the plaintiffs' jobs under the ordinance, the plaintiffs' hourly rates, though higher than the federal minimum wage, were deficient, and this deficiency resulted in a deficiency in plaintiffs' overtime wages under the FLSA. 

The defendant filed a motion for reconsideration.  Revisiting the issue, the court reversed its prior decision and dismissed the case, holding that because the ordinance did not create a private cause of action, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims:

In effect, the [court's prior order] furnished Plaintiffs a private cause of action in federal court for wages allegedly owed to them pursuant to a local ordinance despite the presence of an administrative process and the lack of legislative authority from the County (or state) granting a private right of action.  Upon further careful review, the Court agrees with Defendant that such a result, absent binding authority to the contrary, works to improperly expand the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction.

The Calderon case is significant because if the court's initial opinion stood, the plaintiffs would have been able to circumvent the ordinance's administrative process and litigate their prevailing wage claims in court.  The effect of such a decision would have been to create a new federal cause of action for employers covered by the Miami-Dade County prevailing wage ordinance.  The court's revised opinion ensures that the administrative process is the exclusive method for plaintiffs to vindicate their prevailing wage claims.