CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT.
Stone, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Rutledge, Burton; Jackson took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issues brought to this Court by this proceeding arise from a controversy concerning overtime pay and liquidated damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Under § 7 (a), the employer is required to pay for
excess hours of work not less than one and one-half times the regular rate.*fn1 An employer who violates this subsection is liable to his injured employees in the amount due and unpaid and in an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.*fn2
The primary issue presented by the petition for certiorari is whether the Fair Labor Standards Act precludes a bona fide settlement of a bona fide dispute over the coverage of the Act on a claim for overtime compensation and liquidated damages where the employees receive the overtime compensation in full. As the conclusion of the Circuit Court of Appeals on this issue in this case*fn3 conflicts with that of the Fourth Circuit in Guess v.
several respondents. It is set out below.*fn5 Petitioner computed the amount of overtime and respondents raise no question as to its accuracy. Respondents then brought this suit in the District Court to recover liquidated damages due them under § 16 (b) of the Act. It was stipulated that the liquidated damages, due if recoverable, were certain stated amounts which corresponded to the overtime compensation already paid. Petitioner denied that it was covered by the Act and pleaded affirmatively, as a defense, the releases which it asserted were obtained in settlement of a bona fide dispute as to coverage.
The District Court held that there was a good accord and satisfaction and release of all claims for liquidated damages because there was a bona fide settlement of a bona fide dispute. It specifically refused to pass upon the defense that the Act did not cover the respondents except to indicate that it presented a difficult issue. 53 F.Supp. 844. This judgment was entered prior to our decision in the O'Neil case. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. That court thought the O'Neil case substantially determined that a bona fide compromise of a dispute as to coverage was invalid. Its conclusion as to the invalidity of such compromises was in accord with its prior comments that the liability of unpaid overtime compensation and liquidated damages is single and "is not discharged in toto by paying one-half of it." Rigopoulos v. Kervan, 140 F.2d 506, 507; Fleming v. Post, 146 F.2d 441, 443.
Petitioner urges that the theory of a single liability of the employer to the employee under § 16 (b) is unsound
and that this Court should not find a lack of power in employers and employees to settle amicably controversies over coverage and amounts due for violations of the unpaid minimum wage or unpaid overtime compensation under §§ 6 and 7 of the Act. Petitioner reasons on its first contention that there were two claims -- one for overtime compensation and the other for an equal amount as liquidated damages -- and that the payment for the first in full was sufficient consideration for the release of the second. On its second contention, petitioner advances the argument that since the congressional intent to forbid compromises of such claims is not clear, such a sharp departure from the traditional policy of encouraging the adjustment instead of the litigation of disputes cannot be inferred from the purposes of the Act. Petitioner points out that a seaman may release his claims under statutes enacted for his protection in a bona fide settlement*fn6 and that settlement of accrued claims is permitted under the Federal Employers' ...