(a) The Portal Act
provides a statute of limitations fixing the time limits within which actions by employees under section 16(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act
may be commenced, as follows:
128 See sections 6-8 inclusive.
129 Sponsors of the legislation stated that the time limitations prescribed therein apply only to the statutory actions, brought under the special authority contained in section 16(b), in which liquidated damages may be recovered, and do not purport to affect the usual application of State statutes of limitation to other actions brought by employees to recover wages due them under contract, at common law, or under State statutes. Statements of Representative Gwynne, 93 Cong. Rec. 1491, 1557-1588; colloquy between Representative Robsion, Vorys, and Celler, 93 Cong. Rec. 1495.
(1) Actions to enforce causes of action accruing on or after May 14, 1947; two years.
(2) Actions to enforce causes of action accruing before May 14, 1947.
Two years or period prescribed by applicable State statute of limitations, whichever is shorter.
130 This refers to actions commenced after September 11, 1947. Such actions commenced on or between May 14, 1947 and September 11, 1947 were left subject to State statutes of limitations. As to collective and representatives actions commenced before May 14, 1947, section 8 of the Portal Act makes the period of limitations stated in the text applicable to the filing, by certain individual claimants, of written consents to become parties plaintiff. See Conference Report, p. 15; § 790.20 of this part.
These are maximum periods for bringing such actions, measured from the time the employee's cause of action accrues to the time his action is commenced.
131 Conference Report, pp. 13-15.
(b) The courts have held that a cause of action under the Fair Labor Standards Act for unpaid minimum wages or unpaid overtime compensation and for liquidated damages “accrues” when the employer fails to pay the required compensation for any workweek at the regular pay day for the period in which the workweek ends.
The Portal Act
provides that an action to enforce such a cause of action shall be considered to be “commenced”:
132 Reid v. Solar Corp., 69 F. Supp. 626 (N.D. Iowa); Mid-Continent Petroleum Corp. v. Keen, 157 F. (2d) 310, 316 (C.A. 8). See also Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697; Rigopoulos v. Kervan, 140 F. (2d) 506 (C.A. 2).
In some instances an employee may receive, as a part of his compensation, extra payments under incentive or bonus plans, based on factors which do not permit computation and payment of the sums due for a particular workweek or pay period until some time after the pay day for that period. In such cases it would seem that an employee's cause of action, insofar as it may be based on such payments, would not accrue until the time when such payment should be made. Cf. Walling v. Harnischfeger Corp., 325 U.S. 427.
133 Section 7. See also Conference Report, p. 14.
(1) In individual actions, on the date the complaint is filed;
(2) In collective or class actions, as to an individual claimant.
(i) On the date the complaint is filed, if he is specifically named therein as a party plaintiff and his written consent to become such is filed with the court on that date, or
(ii) On the subsequent date when his written consent to become a party plaintiff is filed in the court, if it was not so filed when the complaint was filed or if he was not then named therein as a party plaintiff.
134 This is also the rule under section 8 of the Portal Act as to individual claimants, in collective or representative actions commenced before May 14, 1947, who were not specifically named as parties plaintiff on or before September 11, 1947.
(c) The statute of limitations in the Portal Act is silent as to whether or not the running of the two-year period of limitations may be suspended for any cause.
In this connection, attention is directed to section 205 of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940,
as amended, which provides that the period of military service shall not be included in the period limited by law for the bringing of an action or proceeding, whether the cause of action shall have accrued prior to or during the period of such service.
135 A limited suspension provision was contained in section 2(d) of the House bill, but was eliminated by the Senate. Neither the Senate debates, the Senate committee report, nor the conference committee report, indicate the reason for this. While the courts have held that in a proper case, a statute of limitations may be suspended by causes not mentioned in the statute itself (Braun v. Sauerwein, 10 Wall. 218, 223; see also Richards v. Maryland Ins. Co., 8 Cranch 84, 92; Bauserman v. Blunt, 147 U.S. 647), they have also held that when the statute has once commenced to run, its operation is not suspended by a subsequent disability to sue, and that the bar of the statute cannot be postponed by the failure of the creditor (employee) to avail himself of any means within his power to prosecute or to preserve his claim. Bauserman v. Blunt, 147 U.S. 647, 657; Smith v. Continental Oil Co., 59 F. Supp. 91, 94.
136 Act of October 17, 1940, ch. 888, 54 Stat. 1178, as amended by the act of October 6, 1942, ch. 581, 56 Stat. 769 (50 U.S.C.A. App. sec. 525).