Category Archives: Damages

USSC: Plaintiff’s Petition for Certiorari Denied Regarding Calculation of Damages for “Salaried Misclassified” Workers

Urnikis-Negro v. American Family Property

In a case where the United States Supreme Court could have decided the oft-raised issue of how to calculate an employee’s damages, following a finding that they were “salaried misclassified,” the Supreme Court has denied Plaintiff’s Petition for Cert, and therefore the issue remains largely unresolved.  In a decision discussed here, the Seventh Circuit held that the proper calculation of damages in such a situation was the the “fluctuating workweek” methodology, rather than time and a half.  The Fourth Circuit held that only “half-time” damages are due when an employee is salaried misclassified recently too.  This decision was widely watched by Wage and Hour practitioners, because of the impact the calculation issue has on damages for such employees who are misclassified.   Under the fluctuating workweek calculation, an employee who was salaried and misclassified receives less than one third the damages he or she would receive if the award were made at time and a half.

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M.D.Fla.: In “Salary Misclassification” Case, Time And A Half Damages Due, Because FWW Calculation Would Result In Sub-Minimum Wages For Overtime Hours In Many Weeks

West v. Verizon Services Corp.

This case was before the court on the Defendants’ motions for summary judgment on a variety of issues.  Defendants’ motions were denied.  As discussed here, the case of interest, because the court weighed in on the hot-button issue of how to calculate damages for an employee who was “salaried misclassified” by his or her employer.  Here, the court held that the damages for the plaintiff, if any, were to be calculated using the FLSA’s default time and a half methodology, largely because a calculation under the fluctuating workweek methodology (FWW) would result in sub-minimum wages for overtime hours in many weeks.

Pertinent to the issue discussed here, Plaintiffs pay was $400.00 per week in salary and, in some instances they could earn a $200.00 bonus in addition, if certain conditions were met.  The testimony in the record also indicated that the Plaintiffs worked varying hours each week, sometimes working in excess of 60 hours per week.

Holding that Plaintiffs’ damages, if any, were due to be calculated at the FLSA’s default time and a half rate, the court reasoned:

“D. Rate of Overtime Compensation

As noted above, Defendants argue that West is not entitled to any overtime compensation. However, in the alternative to Defendants’ aforementioned arguments, Defendants submit that if West is entitled to overtime compensation, she is not entitled to overtime compensation at the rate of time and one-half for hours worked over 40. Rather, Defendants contend that, if West is entitled to overtime compensation, her damages should be calculated using the “half-time” method. West disagrees, and seeks time and one-half for all overtime hours worked.

The FLSA mandates overtime payment for non-exempt employees for hours worked over 40 in a workweek at a rate of one and one-half times the regular rate at which the employee is paid. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). As correctly noted by Defendants, “calculation of the ‘regular rate’ is thus the starting point for determining the amount of overtime an employee is owed.” (Doc. # 214 at 12).

In Overnight Motor Transportation Company v. Missel, 316 U.S. 572, 580, 62 S.Ct. 1216, 86 L.Ed. 1682 (1942), the Court held that the employee’s “regular rate” may be determined by dividing the number of hours actually worked by the weekly wage. Id. As a result, a non-exempt employee who receives a weekly salary for all hours worked (even hours over 40) has, by definition, already been paid his “regular rate” for all hours worked in the workweek. Using this method, a salaried employee is only owed half-time for any hours worked in excess of 40 per week.

There can be no doubt that under certain circumstances, overtime payment using the half-time approach is entirely appropriate. “Virtually every court that has considered the question has upheld the remedial use of half-time in failed exemption cases.” Torres v. Bacardi Global Brands Promotions, Inc., 482 F.Supp.2d 1379, 1381, n. 2 (S.D.Fla.2007) (internal citation omitted). However, West asserts that compensation for overtime using the half-time approach, rather than the time and one-half approach, is improper here because Defendants have not satisfied the requirements of the “Fluctuating Work Week” Regulation.

Under 29 C.F.R. § 778.114, the fluctuating workweek method of calculating compensation is used only if the following requirements are met: (1) the employee’s hours fluctuate from week to week; (2) the employee receives a fixed weekly salary which remains the same regardless of the number of hours worked during the week; (3) the fixed amount is sufficient to provide compensation at a regular rate not less than the legal minimum wage; (4) the employer and the employee have a clear and mutual understanding that the employer will pay the employee a fixed salary regardless of the number of hours worked; and (5) the employee receives a fifty percent overtime premium in addition to the fixed weekly salary for all hours worked in excess of 40 during the week. See also Davis v. Friendly Express, Inc., 61 Fed. App’x 671 (11th Cir.2003); O’Brien v. Town of Agawam, 350 F.3d 279, 288 (1st Cir.2003); Griffin v. Wake County, 142 F.3d 712, 716 (4th Cir.1998).

It is evident that the arrangement between West and Defendants does not comport with the fluctuating workweek requirements above. Most importantly, if West worked 72 hours a week, her hourly rate using the fluctuating workweek method would be $5.56, which is less than the applicable minimum wage during the time of her employment ($6.79). As calculated by West, “any week in which West worked at least 59 hours, her hourly rate would fall below the guaranteed minimum wage.” (Doc. # 224).

In addition, West testified that her hours did not fluctuate in that she worked 72 hours per week, every week. There can be no understanding that an employee’s salary is intended to compensate for fluctuating hours-the hallmark of a fluctuating work week case-when the worker understands her hours to be set at 72 hours per week. Furthermore, West’s salary was not “fixed” because she received various bonus payments and commissions.

On the present record, the Court declines to determine that West’s overtime compensation, if any, should be limited to half-time, rather than time and one-half. In the instance that a jury determines that West is entitled to overtime compensation, West’s rate of overtime compensation will be time and one-half.”

Click West v. Verizon Services Corp. to read the entire order.

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4th Cir.: When Salaried Employees Were Misclassified, Damages Properly Calculated At “Half-Time” Rather Than Time And A Half

Desmond v. PNGI Charles Town Gaming, L.L.C.

As discussed here previously, this was the second time this case ended up at the 4th Circuit.  Previously, the 4th Circuit had vacated the trial court’s Order determining the plaintiff’s to be administratively exempt and remanded the case for further findings.  On this appeal the plaintiffs challenged the lower court’s ruling as to how their damages in this so-called “salary misclassified” case should be determined.  Additionally, the defendant cross-appealed the lower court’s determination, on summary judgment, that it’s violations were willful.  Joining other Circuits who have ruled on the calculation issue, the 4th Circuit held that the lower court properly applied a so-called “half-time” calculation in determining the plaintiffs damages.

In making its ruling, the 4th Circuit discussed, at length case law from other circuits:

“The former employees worked as racing officials with Charles Town Gaming. J.A. 50. Charles Town Gaming prepared the job descriptions for racing officials in 1999. Id. at 55-56. In doing so, Charles Town Gaming’s human resources director used a computer program to help determine whether to designate the position as exempt or non-exempt from overtime under the FLSA. Id. Charles Town Gaming paid the racing officials a per diem rate and treated them as exempt. See Aff. Karen Raffo, Nov. 20, 2007. Over the ensuing years, Charles Town Gaming changed the pay from per diem to a fixed weekly salary that the parties intended to cover all hours worked. See J.A. 56, 146-52; Aff. Karen Raffo, Nov. 20, 2007. Charles Town Gaming believed (erroneously) that the former employees were subject to the FLSA administrative exemption; therefore, Charles Town Gaming did not pay them overtime. J.A. 49. All three appellants often worked more than 40 hours in a week. Id. at 50. After the appellants unanimously declared the wrong horse to have won a race, Charles Town Gaming dismissed them from their employment. Id.

The former employees contend the district court erred in calculating their unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Charles Town Gaming contends the district court erred by concluding that their FLSA violation was willful. We review a grant of summary judgment de novo. See, e.g., United States v. Bergbauer, 602 F.3d 569, 574 (4th Cir.2010). When cross-motions for summary judgment are before a court, the court examines each motion separately, employing the familiar standard under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Ga. Pac. Consumer Prods., L.P. v. Von Drehle Corp., 618 F.3d 441, 445 (4th Cir.2010).

The former employees challenge how the district court calculated their unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The Supreme Court addressed how to calculate such unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in Overnight Motor. 316 U .S. at 580. The Court held that when calculating the “regular rate” of pay for an employee who agreed to receive a fixed weekly salary as payment for all hours worked, a court should divide the employees fixed weekly salary by the total hours worked in the particular workweek.   Id. at 579-80 (analyzing section 7 of the FLSA, now codified at 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1)). This calculation should be completed for each workweek at issue and results in a regular rate for a given workweek. Id. Of course, the Court recognized that the regular rate could vary depending on the total hours worked. The Court then determined that the employee should receive overtime compensation for all hours worked beyond 40 in a given workweek at a rate not less than one-half of the employee’s regular rate of pay. Id.

Although the parties agree that Overnight Motor applies in calculating the regular rate, they disagree about how to calculate the overtime premium. Specifically, the parties disagree over whether the former employees should receive 150% of the regular rate for all hours worked over 40 in a given workweek or 50% of the regular rate for all hours worked over 40 in a given workweek.

In analyzing how to calculate unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in this mistaken exemption classification case, we note that four sister circuits have addressed this issue. The First, Fifth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits all have determined that a 50% overtime premium was appropriate in calculating unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in mistaken exemption classification cases, so long as the employer and employee had a mutual understanding that the fixed weekly salary was compensation for all hours worked each workweek and the salary provided compensation at a rate not less than the minimum wage for every hour worked. See Urnikis-Negro v. Am. Family Prop. Servs., 616 F.3d 665 (7th Cir.2010); Clements v. Serco, Inc., 530 F.3d 1224 (10th Cir.2008); Valerio v. Putnam Assocs., Inc., 173 F.3d 35 (1st Cir .1999); Blackmon v. Brookshire Grocery Co., 835 F.2d 1135 (5th Cir.1988).

In Blackmon, the Fifth Circuit applied 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 to calculate unpaid overtime compensation in a mistaken exemption classification case. 835 F.2d at 1138. The employees in Blackmon were meat-market managers who were wrongly classified as exempt. Id. at 1137-38. The district court calculated their unpaid overtime compensation by dividing the weekly salary by 40 hours to determine their regular rate, multiplying that rate by 150%, and then multiplying that result by the number of overtime hours. Id. at 1138. The Fifth Circuit rejected this method, instead applying 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 to determine the regular rate, and only using a 50% multiplier. Id. The Fifth Circuit did not cite, much less discuss, Overnight Motor.

In Valerio, the First Circuit upheld an award of summary judgment in a mistaken exemption classification case. 173 F.3d at 39-40. Valerio was wrongly classified as an exempt employee. Id. at 37. Upon dismissing Valerio from employment, her employer gave her a lump-sum payment intended to cover any overtime owed to her. Id. at 38. In calculating the unpaid overtime compensation, the employer paid her a 50% overtime premium and relied on 29 C.F.R. § 778.114. The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that the amount paid was more than was owed to Valerio under the FLSA. Id. In Valerio, the First Circuit cited, but did not discuss, Overnight Motor. Id. at 39-40.

In Clements, the Tenth Circuit affirmed a district court’s application of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 to calculate unpaid overtime compensation in a mistaken exemption classification case. 530 F.3d at 1225. The employees in Clements provided recruiting services to the Army on behalf of their employer, Serco. Id. Serco had erroneously classified these employees as exempt under the “outside salesmen” exemption. Id. at 1227; cf. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). The employees claimed a 150% multiplier applied because the employer and employees had not agreed on whether overtime compensation was owed. Clements, 530 F.3d at 1230. In affirming the use of a 50% multiplier in calculating the unpaid overtime compensation, the Tenth Circuit cited 29 C.F.R. § 778.114, the First Circuit’s decision in Valerio, and our decision in Bailey v. County of Georgetown, 94 F.3d 152, 155-57 (4th Cir.1996).   Clements, 530 F.3d at 1230. The Tenth Circuit found the lack of a clear and mutual understanding on the overtime premium to be “irrelevant as to whether the Employees understood they were being paid on a salaried … basis.” Id. at 1231. In Clements, the Tenth Circuit did not cite, much less discuss, Overnight Motor.

In Urnikis-Negro, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s award of a 50% overtime premium to calculate unpaid overtime compensation in a mistaken exemption classification case. 616 F.3d at 684. However, the court rejected the district court’s retroactive application of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114, finding it a “dubious source of authority for calculating a misclassified employee’s damages.” Id. at 679. Instead, the court relied on Overnight Motor. Id. at 680-84. The court held that when an employer and employee agree that a fixed salary will constitute payment at the regular rate for all hours worked and the rate is not lower than the minimum wage, a court should rely on Overnight Motor to calculate unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Id. Moreover, in such a situation, the court calculates the unpaid overtime compensation using a 50% multiplier rather than a 150% multiplier. See id.

In addition to these decisions from our sister circuits, the Department of Labor also has approved using a 50% overtime premium to calculate unpaid overtime compensation in a mistaken exemption classification case. See Retroactive Payment of Overtime and the Fluctuating Workweek Method of Payment, Wage and Hour Opinion Letter, FLSA 2009-3 (Dep’t of Labor Jan. 14, 2009). The DOL issued the opinion letter in response to an employer who asked how to compensate employees mistakenly classified as exempt. Id. at 1. In the opinion letter, the DOL states that “because the fixed salary covered whatever hours the employees were called upon to work in a workweek; the employees will be paid an additional one-half their actual regular rate for each overtime hour …; and the employees received and accepted the salary knowing that it covered whatever hours they worked,” a retroactive payment of overtime using the 50% multiplier conforms with FLSA requirements. Id. at 2.

Here, the district court did not apply 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 to this mistaken exemption classification case. Rather, the district court relied on the logical implications of Overnight Motor to calculate unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Desmond, 661 F.Supp.2d at 584. The district court found that there was an agreement that the fixed weekly salary covered all hours worked. Id. The district court then reasoned that Overnight Motor’s regular-rate determination implies the previously paid weekly salary covers the base compensation for all hours worked. Id. Thus, the district court concluded that it need only award 50% of the regular rate to provide the employees their “unpaid overtime compensation” under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Id.

Appellants disagree and insist that such a reliance on Overnight Motor improperly expands federal common law. They also (confusingly) argue that Chevron deference to 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 requires courts to use a 150% multiplier and that if employers are allowed to retroactively apply section 778.114 in mistaken exemption classification cases, employers have no motive to pay for overtime as it accrues, effectively treating nonexempt employees as if they were exempt. In appellants’ view, such a holding will create an incentive for employers to pay a fixed weekly salary, never to pay overtime, and then simply pay a 50% premium on the regular rate if caught misclassifying non-exempt employees as exempt employees. Cf. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1); 29 C.F.R. pt. 541 (white-collar exemption regulations).

As the district court held, appellants’ argument ignores the teaching of Overnight Motor. After all, in Overnight Motor, the Court recognized that employees and employers are free to agree to a reduced hourly wage in exchange for a fixed weekly salary, provided the fixed weekly salary covers all hours worked and meets minimum wage requirements. 316 U.S. at 580. In our view, the district court correctly concluded that Overnight Motor provides the appropriate method for calculating the unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in this case. Tellingly, in Overnight Motor, the Court provided the formula to compute the overtime due an employee who was paid a fixed weekly salary intended to cover all hours worked. Overnight Motor, 316 U.S. at 580 n. 16. Although Overnight Motor concerned the more basic question of whether overtime compensation applies to those earning more than the minimum wage requirements in the FLSA, 316 U.S. at 575, it contains nothing to indicate why such a computation would not apply in determining unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in a mistaken exemption classification case. Indeed, in Overnight Motor, the Court interpreted 29 U.S.C. § 207(a) and explained the meaning of “the regular rate at which he is employed,” and interpreted 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and explained how to calculate “unpaid overtime compensation.” See Overnight Motor, 316 U.S. at 574 n. 2, 579-80.

Traditional principles of compensatory damages bolster this conclusion. Compensatory damages are “[d]amages sufficient in amount to indemnify the injured person for the loss suffered.” Black’s Law Dictionary 445 (9th ed.2009). Here, the former employees agreed to receive straight time pay for all hours worked in a given workweek and have already received such pay. Thus, the “loss suffered” is the 50% premium for their overtime hours. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s judgment about how to calculate unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).”

Currently, the plaintiffs in the 7th Circuit case, Urnikis-Negro v. Am. Family Prop. Servs., 616 F.3d 665 (7th Cir.2010), have filed a petition for cert in the Supreme Court, so the effect of the 4th Circuit’s holding may be should-lived.

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W.D.Tex.: Emotional Distress and Punitive Damages Unavailable In FLSA Retaliation Claim

Douglas v. Mission Chevrolet

In addition to seeking unpaid overtime wages and liquidated damages under the FLSA, the Plaintiff alleged that he was entitled to emotional distress and/or punitive damages as a result of claimed retaliation in violation of the anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3).  Defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff’s claim for retaliation, asserting that neither emotional distress damages nor punitive damages are available under the FLSA.  Construing comparable Fifth Circuit law pertaining to ADEA claims, the court agreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s retaliation claim.

The court addressed each type of damages separately:

“1. Emotional distress damages

The damages provision of the anti-retaliation section of the FLSA states, in relevant part,:

Any employer who violates the provisions of section 215(a)(3) of this title shall be liable for such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate to effectuate the purposes of section 215(a)(3) of this title, including without limitation employment, reinstatement, promotion, and the payment of wages lost and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

Circuit courts that have addressed the issue have held that “legal or equitable relief” includes emotional distress damages. See Moore v. Freeman, 355 F.3d 558, 563-64 (6th Cir.2004) (emotional distress damages are recoverable under the anti-retaliation provision of the FLSA); Broadus v. O.K. Indus., Inc., 238 F.3d 990, 992 (8th Cir.2001) (emotional distress damages are recoverable in Equal Pay Act retaliation case); Lambert v. Ackerley, 180 F.3d 997, 1017 (9th Cir.1999) (reversing and remanding emotional distress award of $75,000 under anti-retaliation provision of FLSA for determination of appropriate amount of emotional distress damages); Avitia v. Metro. Club of Chi., Inc., 49 F.3d 1219, 1228-29 (7th Cir.1995) (citing Travis v. Gary Cmty. Mental Health Ctr., Inc., 921 F.2d 108, 111-12 (7th Cir.1990)) (emotional distress damages are recoverable under the anti-retaliation provision of the FLSA). The Fifth Circuit has yet to address whether emotional distress damages are available in an FLSA anti-retaliation claim.

However, the Fifth Circuit has held that the remedies provisions of the FLSA and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) must be interpreted consistently. See Lubke v. City of Arlington, 455 F.3d 489, 499 (5th Cir.2006) (“Because the remedies available under the ADEA and the FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] both track the FLSA, cases interpreting remedies under the statutes should be consistent.”); see also Johnson v. Martin, 473 F.3d 220, 222 (5th Cir.2006) (applying ADEA precedent to the FLSA to determine whether wages earned after termination offset lost wage damages because “[t]he FLSA and ADEA have the same remedies provisions”).

The Fifth Circuit has addressed whether emotional distress damages are available under the ADEA, which has similar remedies provisions as the FLSA. See Dean v. Am. Sec. Ins. Co., 559 F.2d 1036 (5th Cir.1977). In Dean, the Fifth Circuit rejected the argument that the statutory language “legal or equitable relief” in the ADEA includes emotional distress damages. Id. at 1038. In so holding, the Fifth Circuit emphasized the notably absent phrase “general damages,” “punitive damages,” or any type of damages based on emotional distress from the ADEA’s damages provisions. Id. at 1038-39. In the FLSA damages provision cited above, the same phrases are absent.

Since the Fifth Circuit has expressed its desire for the FLSA’s remedies provision to be interpreted consistently with the ADEA’s remedies provision, and since emotional distress damages are not available in claims brought under the ADEA, see Dean, 559 F.2d at 1038, this Court must hold that emotional distress damages are also unavailable under the FLSA. It is for this reason that another judge on this Court has already reached the same conclusion in another case. See Rumbo v. Southwest Convenience Stores, LLC, No. EP-10-CA-184-FM (W.D.Tex. July 19, 2010) (order granting motion to dismiss) (employing similar reasoning in granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims for emotional distress damages and punitive damages in an FLSA anti-retaliation claim). Therefore, Plaintiff may not recover damages based on emotional distress in his anti-retaliation claim brought under the FLSA.

2. Punitive damages

Similarly, Defendant contends punitive damages are not available in an anti-retaliation claim based on the FLSA, Mot. 2, while Plaintiff claims punitive damages are recoverable. Resp. 3. Federal appellate courts that have considered the issue are split on whether a plaintiff can recover punitive damages in an FLSA anti-retaliation claim. Compare Travis, 921 F.2d at 111-12 (punitive damages are available in an FLSA anti-retaliation claim), with Snapp v. Unlimited Concepts, Inc., 208 F.3d 928, 933-35 (11th Cir.2000) (punitive damages are not available in an FLSA anti-retaliation claim). The Fifth Circuit, however, has yet to address whether punitive damages are available under an anti-retaliation claim brought pursuant to the FLSA.

Just as it held with respect to emotional distress damages, the Fifth Circuit in Dean held that punitive damages are unavailable under the ADEA. 559 F.2d at 1038. As discussed above, because the ADEA and FLSA must be interpreted consistently with respect to remedies, see Lubke, 455 F.3d at 499; Johnson, 473 F.3d at 222, this Court must hold that punitive damages are not recoverable in an anti-retaliation claim brought under the FLSA.”

Click Douglas v. Mission Chevrolet to read the entire opinion.

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7th Cir.: FWW Is Appropriate Method To Determine Unpaid Overtime Where Plaintiff Was Salaried Misclassified

Urnikis-Negro v. American Family Property Services

Although plaintiff Brenda Urnikis-Negro prevailed in her suit for overtime pay, she contended on appeal that the district court improperly calculated the amount of pay she was owed.  After a bench trial, the district court found that the Defendants, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq. (“FLSA”), when they treated Urnikis-Negro as an administrative employee who was exempt from the overtime provisions of the statute. Urnikis-Negro v. Am. Family Prop. Servs., Inc., No. 06 C 6014, 2008 WL 5539823, at *5-*9 (N.D.Ill. Jul. 21, 2008); see 29 U.S.C. §§ 207, 216(b).  As a result of Defendants’ misclassification, Urnikis-Negro was never paid anything above her fixed salary for her overtime hours.

However, in calculating Urnikis-Negro’s regular rate of pay and thence the overtime to which she was entitled, the court used the fluctuating workweek (“FWW”) method set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a), an interpretive rule promulgated by the Department of Labor. 2008 WL 5539823, at *11-*12.

Recognizing that section 778.114(a) itself does not provide the authority for applying the FWW method in a misclassification case, it applied the FWW anyway.  In a troubling opinion, the Court specifically stated that the FWW “is not a remedial measure that specifies how damages are to be calculated when a court finds that an employer has breached its statutory obligations.”

Nonetheless, the Court held that irrespective of the rule, it was appropriate for the district court to apply the FWW method in this case, citing the authority found in the Supreme Court’s decision in Overnight Motor Transp. Co. v. Missel, 316 U.S. 572, 62 S.Ct. 1216 (1942), superseded on other grounds by statute as stated in Trans World Air Lines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 128 n. 22, 105 S.Ct. 613, 625 n. 22 (1985), “which approved this very method of calculating of an employee’s regular rate of pay and corresponding overtime premium. We therefore affirm the district court’s judgment.”

To read the entire decision, click here.

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D.Md.: Defendant Not Entitled To Offset For Room and Board Or Meals, Due To Failure to Provide Documentation Of Costs To Plaintiff During Employment and Lack Of Agreement Regarding Same

Epps v. Way of Hope, Inc.

This case was before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  Plaintiff was employed by defendants as a “care provider” at defendants’ facility, where she prepared meals, cleaned, did laundry, and assisted facility residents with personal care, hygiene, and medication.  Her duties also included night care of residents, including changing sheets, monitoring residents walking the halls, and personal hygiene.  Plaintiff alleged that, while she worked seven days per week, without weekend breaks, and that “it was not uncommon for [her] to work far in excess of 40 hours per week.”  She alleges that defendants did not pay her for all hours worked and did not pay her minimum wage.  She further alleged that defendants did not direct her to record her hours.  Among other things, as discussed here, Defendant responded that they provided plaintiff with room and board, and contended that plaintiff was aware that her receipt of room and board would constitute a portion of her wages, such that the provision of same should constitute an offset to any wages found due and owing.  The Court rejected this argument, as discussed below.

Rejecting Defendant’s argument regarding offset, the Court stated:

“Plaintiff seeks summary judgment on two related issues: (1) whether defendants took “impermissible” deductions from plaintiff’s wages; and (2) whether the claimed deductions can offset or reduce the amount of wages owed to plaintiff.

Under the FLSA and Maryland Wage and Hour Law (MWHL), an employer must compensate employees for all hours worked at a rate not less than the federal minimum wage, and at least one and one half the regular rate of pay for each hour worked over 40 in one workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); MD.CODE ANN., LAB. & EMPL.¤ §§ 3-415(A), 3-420(A). WHILE “WAGES” MAY INCLUDE BOTH ACTUAL PAID WAGES AND “THE REASONABLE COST … TO THE EMPLOYER OF FURNISHING SUCH EMPLOYEE WITH BOARD, LODGING, OR OTHER FACILITIES, IF SUCH BOARD, LODGING, OR OTHER FACILITIES ARE CUSTOMARILY FURNISHED BY SUCH EMPLOYER TO HIS EMPLOYEE,” 29 U.S.C. § 203(B), THE EMPLOYER MUST MAINTAIN AND PRESERVE RECORDS SUBSTANTIATING THIS COST ON A WORKWEEK BASIS. 29 C.F.R. § 516.27(A)-(B); Md.Code. Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 3-503. FURTHERMORE, AN EMPLOYER MUST RECEIVE WRITTEN AUTHORIZATION FROM THE EMPLOYEE BEFORE COMPENSATING THE EMPLOYEE IN PART BY PROVIDING BOARD AND LODGING. MD. CODE ANN., LAB. & EMPL. § 3-503. FAILURE TO MAINTAIN SUCH DOCUMENTATION IS FATAL TO AN EMPLOYER’S ATTEMPT TO COUNT ROOM AND BOARD AS WAGES PAID TO AN EMPLOYEE.   JONES V. WAY OF HOPE, INC., 2009 WL 3756843, CIV. NO. 07-1517-BEL *3 (D.MD. NOV. 6, 2009); MARROQUIN V. CANALES, 505 F.SUPP.2D 283, 292-93 (D.MD.2007).

Although defendants claim in their opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment that they “furnished records to show the cost of meals, lodging and other facilities supplied to the Plaintiff” (Paper No. 22, 5), it is undisputed that defendants did not provide plaintiff with documentation showing deductions from her wages for room and board during the course of her employment. (Paper No. 1, 5; Paper No. 4, 2; Paper No. 25, 4-5). It is also undisputed that plaintiff “never signed a document authorizing Defendants to take deductions for room and board from her wages.” (Paper No. 1, 5; Paper No. 4, 2). Defendants suggest that plaintiff’s awareness and acceptance of board and lodging entitled defendants to deduct the value of board and lodging from her pay. (Paper No. 22, 5-6). However, the FLSA’s protections are construed strictly, and defendants’ failure to obtain written authorization from plaintiff or to maintain documentation showing deductions from her wages for room and board precludes them from counting room and board within the wages paid to plaintiff. See, e.g., Marroquin, 505 F.Supp.2d. at 292-93 (collecting authority supporting the proposition that an employer is not entitled to offset wages by lodging or board when it fails to maintain and preserve requisite documentation); Jones, 2009 WL 3756843 at *3 (“The failure to document the amount, the failure to obtain [ ] written authorization from Jones, and the failure to include detailed documentation on the amount of room and board all preclude the Defendants from counting room and board within the wages paid to [Plaintiff].”).

For the reasons set forth herein, the Court hereby GRANTS partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiff on the issue of “offsetting” of wages owed to plaintiff, and specifically rules that, as a matter of law, defendants cannot use room and board provided by them to plaintiff to offset the wages owed to plaintiff under the FLSA and MWHL because they failed to obtain plaintiff’s written authorization for such deductions and failed to maintain requisite documentation of deductions.”

Click here to read the entire opinion Epps v. Way of Hope, Inc.

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D.N.J.: Defendants’ Purported Use Of Fluctuating Workweek (FWW) Violated FLSA, Because There Was No “Fixed” Amount As Straight Time Pay; Docking Of Pay, Although Infrequent Violated FLSA; Time And A Half Damages Due

Brumley v. Camin Cargo Control, Inc.

This matter was before the Court on the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Defendant and Plaintiffs, on a variety of issues arising from Defendant’s purported use of the Fluctuating Workweek (FWW), to calculate Plaintiffs’ overtime compensation.  As discussed partially herein, Defendant’s motion was denied in its entirety and Plaintiffs’ motion was granted in part and denied in part.  Significantly, the Court held that Defendant’s purported use of the FWW violated the FLSA for a variety of reasons, and under such circumstances, Plaintiffs’ damages were to be calculated using the FLSA’s default time and a half method not the FWW, as Defendant’s had proposed.

After outlining the applicable law, the Court first discussed the Defendant’s infrequent docking of Plaintiffs’ pay, ruling that same necessarily resulted in a failure to comply with the stringent requirements of 29 C.F.R. 778.114, and thus Defendant was not entitled to summary judgment.

“With respect to decreases in the fixed salary, regulation calls for a fixed salary regardless of the length of the workweek. 29 C.F .R. § 778.114 (“An employee employed on a salary basis may have hours of work which fluctuate from week to week and the salary may be paid him pursuant to an understanding with his employer that he will receive such fixed amount as straight time pay for whatever hours he is called upon to work in a workweek, whether few or many.”). An employer may deduct from an FWW employee’s vacation time bank for workdays missed, but may not deduct from the fixed salary for time an FWW employee misses from work. DOL Opinion Letter, 1999 WL 1002399 (May 10, 1999). Similarly, the DOL stated that “it is the longstanding position of the Wage and Hour Division that an employer utilizing the fluctuating workweek method of payment may not make deductions from an employee’s salary for absences occasioned by the employee[,]” unless the deductions are of a nonroutine disciplinary nature “for willful absences or tardiness or for infractions of major work rules.” DOL Opinion Letter, 2006 WL 1488849 (May 12, 2006).

Several of the cases cited by the parties are not on point with respect to the issue of salary decreases under the FWW. Although Aiken v. County of Hampton discusses the FWW, its ruling on the fixed salary requirement relates to deductions from accrued vacation banks and the effect of legal holidays that are not at issue in the instant matter. 977 F.Supp. 390, 395-97 (D.S.C.1997). Lance v. Scotts Co. addresses the effect of commissions on FWW calculations, something governed by 29 C.F.R. § 778.118, a regulation not at issue here. No. 04-5270, 2005 WL 1785315, at *4-7 (N.D.Ill. Jul. 21, 2005) (Keys, M.J.). Rau v. Darling’s Drug Stores, Inc. addresses not the existence of a fixed weekly payment, but the correct calculation of damages for a non-exempt, salaried employee. 388 F.Supp. 877, 883-86 (E.D.Pa.1977). In Spring v. Washington Glass Co. the parties stipulated to the use of the FWW to calculate overtime pay damages, so the issue of whether it applied was never contested before that court. 153 F.Supp. 312, 318-19 (W.D.Pa.1957).

Defendant does, however, cite Cash v. Conn Appliances, Inc., 2 F. Supp 2d 884, 906 (E.D.Tx.1997), which supports the proposition that it did not violate the FWW when it docked inspectors for missing work. Cash read the regulation as permitting an employer to dock pay when an employee failed to show up for scheduled work. 2. F. Supp 2d at 906 (“The docking policy only called for a loss of pay for absences during scheduled time; it in no way sanctioned reducing pay because of a failure to assign a coefficient employee forty hours of work for a week.”). Cash also holds that occasional violations of FWW requirements do not result in a broad invalidation of the method when calculating damages. Id. This Court fails to find the Cash interpretation of the regulation persuasive as to docking of employees’ pay. First, the regulation itself specifies that the fixed salary must be paid regardless of hours worked without reference to which party is responsible for the shortfall. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 (“The ‘fluctuating workweek’ method of overtime payment may not be used unless … the employer pays the salary even though the workweek is one in which a full schedule of hours is not worked.”). Second, the DOL’s interpretation of the regulation denies employers the ability to routinely dock the fixed FWW salary. DOL Opinion Letter, 2006 WL 1488849 (May 12, 2006); DOL Opinion Letter, 1999 WL 1002399 (May 10, 1999).

Here, Defendant concedes that on at least one occasion, it docked a Plaintiff inspector’s fixed salary for an impermissible reason. (Def. Reply Br. at 6.) Although it characterizes such an event as statistically insignificant, such an argument goes to weight. This Court, therefore, denies summary judgment to Defendants on the issue of whether they complied with the FWW method of paying the Plaintiff inspectors.”

Next, the Court held that the addition of certain premium pay into Plaintiffs’ straight time pay each week resulted in non-fixed straight time pay, and thus violated the requirements for use of the FWW, in lieu of the default time and a half methodology required by the FLSA.

“The relevant language in the regulation regarding additional payments to FWW employees reads as follows: “[w]here all the legal prerequisites for use of the ‘fluctuating workweek’ method of overtime payment are present, the Act, in requiring that ‘not less than’ the prescribed premium of 50 percent for overtime hours worked be paid, does not prohibit paying more.” 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(c). Department of Labor (“DOL”) Opinion Letters interpreting the FWW regulation have weighed in on the issue of additional payments. The DOL has stated that an employer can make additional payments to an FWW employee for a holiday occurring in a given week. DOL Opinion Letter, 1999 WL 1002399 (May 10, 1999). An employer may also pay employees more than the minimum calculated rate under the FWW method for overtime. DOL Opinion Letter, 2002 WL 32255314 (Oct. 31, 2002).

Courts interpreting the FWW, however, have emphasized that additional payments can result in the finding that there is no fixed salary. Although the court in O’Brien v. Town of Agawam found that variations in the weekly pay of law enforcement officers for other reasons prevented the finding of a fixed FWW salary, it used this reasoning with regard to incentive payments:

The officers’ compensation varies from week to week even without reference to the number of hours worked. Any officer required to work a nighttime shift receives money-expressly termed “additional compensation” under the CBA-in the form of a $10 shift-differential payment added to his check for the week. The Supreme Court has specifically held that such shift differentials, when paid, are part of the worker’s regular rate of pay. Bay Ridge Operating Co. v. Aaron, 334 U.S. 446, 468-69 (1948). So while the shift differential itself may be small, it requires the larger conclusion that most officers do not receive a “fixed amount” for their straight-time labor each week.  350 F.3d 279, 288-89 (1st Cir.2003). See also Dooley v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 369 F. Supp 2d 81, 86 (D.Mass.2005) (following O’Brien ). Similarly, Ayers v. SGS Control Servs., Inc. found that employees performing similar work to the inspector Plaintiffs in this case did not receive a fixed salary because they received lump-sum “day-off pay” and “sea pay” for working on their days off and on offshore vessels. No. 03-9077, 2007 WL 646326, at *8-10 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 27, 2007). Finally, a case in this District, Adeva v. Intertek USA, Inc., stands for the proposition that shift premiums preclude application of the FWW. No. 09-1096, 2010 WL 97991, at *2-3 (D.N.J. Jan. 11, 2010) (Chesler, J.). “The record demonstrates that Plaintiffs’ compensation for non-overtime hours varied, depending upon earned offshore pay, holiday pay or day-off pay. The Court is convinced that due to such payments, Plaintiffs cannot receive the fixed salary required to apply the FWW.” Id.

Some of the cases brought forth by Defendant are inapposite. See, e.g., Clements v. Serco, Inc., 530 F.3d 1224, 1230-31 (10th Cir.2008) (commissions under the FWW); Lance, No. 04-5270, 2005 WL 1785315, at *4-7 (same). Two, however, are potentially instructive. In Cash, discussed supra, the court found that the defendant had failed to incorporate bonuses into its calculation of the regular rate, thereby decreasing plaintiffs’ overtime, but that such failure was considered insufficient to deny the defendant the benefit of the FWW. 2 F. Supp 2d at 893 n. 17, 896, 908. The court in Aiken found that an employer’s payment of holiday pay to a law enforcement officer who worked on a holiday did not result in the absence of a fixed salary. 977 F.Supp. at 399-400. The reasoning used in Aiken was that the employee would have received the holiday pay anyway, regardless of whether or not the employee worked the holiday, and that the holiday pay simply operated as a permissible increase in overtime pay under the circumstances. Id.

This Court finds that Cash and Aiken can be distinguished on their facts. Cash dealt with employees of an appliance store; Aiken dealt with law enforcement personnel. The only cases brought to this Court’s attention that deal with inspectors similar to Plaintiffs are Ayers and Aveda, and this Court finds their reasoning persuasive as to the applicability of the FWW to this case, not only because of the factual similarity, but because they give meaning to the plain language of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114. Plaintiffs were paid day off pay and holiday pay in addition to their regular salary and overtime. (Def. R. 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 15, 39, 41.) For example, Camin concedes that the use of day off and holiday pay resulted in the one inspector’s non-overtime earnings varying from $1,670 to $2,170 over two pay periods. (Def. Opp. R. 56.1 Statement § 23.) Such a scheme results in the absence of the “fixed salary” required by the regulation. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a); Aveda, No. 09-1096, 2010 WL 97991, at *2-3. This Court therefore grants Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on the issue of whether Defendant’s policies and practices violated the FLSA due to the absence of the fixed salary requirement, and declines to reach the remaining arguments of the parties on the FWW. Adeva, No. 09-1096, 2010 WL 97991, at *3.”

Having held that the Defendant’s pay structure violated the FLSA, the Court next turned to the issue of how to calculate Plaintiffs’ damages, and held that the appropriate measure of damages was the FLSA’s default time and a half, not the FWW as Defendant had argued.

“Camin moves this Court to find that any liability it is subject to for violation of the FWW method of calculating pay be done so according to the FWW method. (Def. Br. at 24-27.) It maintains that such a measure of damages is permissible where the violation is computational as opposed to a violation of the clear understanding requirement or the minimum wage. (Id. at 24-25.) Plaintiffs argue that such a damages calculation is impermissible where a prerequisite to the FWW has not been met by the employer. (Pl. Opp. Br. at 24-26).

The primary case relied upon by Camin is Cash. The discussion of the FWW in Cash is quite broad, and describes the measure of damages available in FWW claims under many factual scenarios. 2 F. Supp 2d at 896-97. Cash noted that under the FWW, “[l]iability arises if the employer either miscomputes overtime pay or uses the fluctuating workweek method despite the absence of one or more of the criteria for doing so[,]” but differentiated between the types of violation in which damages were available. Id. at 896. The discussion of the available remedies breaks down into two broad categories: those where the measure of damages would be calculated under the FWW and those where overtime compensation would be adjusted so that it would be recalculated at the default FLSA rate of “time-and-a-half” overtime. Id. The following violations were permitted damages calculations under the FWW in Cash: “[e]mployer infrequently violated the minimum wage criterion and failed to cure its breaches fully[,]” “[e]mployer infrequently violated the minimum wage criterion and made no effort to cure its breaches[,]” and “[e]mployer made a computational mistake.” Id. at 896-97. Cash found that the following violations abrogated the FWW: “[e]mployer regularly violated the minimum wage criterion” and “[e]mployer violated the clear understanding criterion, full schedule criterion or both.” Id. at 896. The Cash court only considered failure of an employer to provide a fixed salary insofar as such a failure would lower overtime rates. Id. at 896.

Although this Court finds the discussion of damages in Cash useful, it is not entirely persuasive. This Court found supra that the fixed salary requirement of the FWW was violated. The regulation states that the fixed salary is a prerequisite to use of the FWW method. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(c). The Cash court found that when other prerequisites of the FWW method were systematically violated, that the employer could not obtain the benefit of the FWW in calculating damages, but failed to reach the same conclusion concerning the fixed salary. Id. at 896. Instead, this Court finds the pre-trial motions opinion in Ayers v. SGS Control Servs., Inc. persuasive. No. 03-9078, 2007 WL 3171342, at *1-3 (S .D.N.Y. Oct. 9, 2007) (“Ayers II” ). In Ayers II, the Court found that as the defendant had violated the fixed salary requirement of the FWW method, it could not have damages calculated under the FWW method. No. 03-9078, 2007 WL 3171342, at *2. The Court held that the proper measure of damages was the default FSLA method: “time-and-a-half for all hours over 40.” Id. at *3. This Court finds that the default FSLA damages calculation, “time-and-a-half for all hours over 40,” will also apply to Plaintiffs who have suffered FWW violations in this case, and that summary judgment on this issue is denied to Defendant.”

Although not discussed here, the Court ruled that the factual issues precluded a finding regarding liquidated damages, and the length of the statute of limitations, at the summary judgment stage.

This case is one of several pending against Oil & Gas Inspection companies currently.  To read more about a similar case, brought on behalf of OGC Inspectors at Inspectorate America, click here.  You can also learn more about similar separate cases pending against Intertek Caleb Brett, Saybolt, Amspec and Inspectorate America by calling 1-888-OVERTIME.

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