N.D.Cal.: Former DOL Wage and Hour Investigator Struck As Expert Because Cannot Testify As A “Legal Expert”

Valladon v. City of Oakland

Defendant sought to use a former DOL Wage and Hour Investigator as their expert to defend this FLSA claim. While working at the Department of Labor (“DOL”), Ms. Kramer gained expertise on Department of Labor regulations and federal case law interpreting FLSA.

She applied this expertise in her report and arrives at the following conclusion:

‘[I]t is my opinion that the City’s compensation practices with regard to donning and doffing of uniforms and equipment and the maintenance of uniforms and equipment, as well as its practices with regard to the use of compensatory time of, fully comply with the FLSA.’  Ms. Kramer also opined that if the Court nonetheless found that the Defendant’s practices violate FLSA, (1) those violations are not willful, so a two-year statute of limitations applies and (2) that the City is not liable for liquidated damages because it acted in good faith with a reasonable belief that its practices were lawful. Ms. Kramer reached these conclusions by analyzing DOL regulations and federal cases interpreting FLSA and determining whether the policies at issue here violate those laws. That is, she applied the facts of this case to the law. For example, after interpreting the text of FLSA, the DOL’s regulation concerning the “continuous workday rule,” two Supreme Court cases, a DOL advisory opinion, and the DOL’s “Wage and Hour Division’s Field Operations Handbook,” Ms. Kramer 2 concluded, ‘Thus, applying DOL’s interpretation of the FLSA and the agency’s own regulations, the time [p]laintiffs spent donning and doffing uniforms and equipment is not compensable because the City permits donning and doffing at home.’

Ms. Kramer used a similar method to reach her opinions about the statute of limitations and the reasonableness of the Defendant’s policies. She even opines that a particular district court reached the “incorrect” legal conclusion about whether a city must compensate its employees for the time spent donning and doffing uniforms.

Finding that, “Ms. Kramer’s “expert report” reads like a legal brief,” the Court found that because “[r]esolving doubtful questions of law is the distinct and exclusive province of the trial judge,” Nationwide, 523 F.3d at 1058 (citation omitted), Ms. Kramer’s report must be stricken. The Court reasoned that “her area of expertise is the law. She therefore purports not to “assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue,” but to help the jury understand the law itself. This is not permissible.

The Court further clarified its holding saying, “[h]ad Ms. Kramer offered opinions moored to the facts of this case, such opinions would not have been inadmissible merely because they included reference to legal terms or regulations. See, e.g., Hangarter v. Provident Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 373 F.3d 998, 1017 (9th Cir.2004) (citation omitted) (“[A] witness may properly be called upon to aid the jury in understanding the facts in evidence even though reference to those facts is couched in legal terms.”). However, Ms. Kramer’s report as drafted, and hence her anticipated testimony, was effectively a surrogate for legal instructions to the jury. This is not allowable.

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