Category Archives: Fluctuating Workweek

W.D.Wash.: Notwithstanding Prior DOL Consent Judgment, Plaintiffs May Pursue Full Damages Under State Law, Because Appropriate Damages For Salary Misclassification Are Time And A Half Not FWW, And Damages Under Consent Judgment Represented Only Partial Relief

Monahan v. Emerald Performance Materials, LLC

This case was before the Court on the parties cross-motions for summary judgment.  The issue was whether a prior consent judgment entered into by the DOL and the Defendant employer precluded this subsequent case, based solely on Washington state law, despite the fact that Plaintiffs were not on notice of the prior proceedings, did not participate in the prior proceedings, and Plaintiffs did not receive full damages due them under the prior consent judgment.  Because the damages awarded previously–based on FWW, rather than time and a half–were insufficient, and Plaintiffs were not parties to the prior litigation, the Court found that they were not precluded from pursuing their full time and a half damages due them.  Further, the Court held that although the consent judgment barred a subsequent FLSA action, it did not preempt or preclude a claim for the additional damages due, solely under the relevant Washington state law.

Discussing the relevant procedural background, the Court stated:

“Immediately after discovering the potential violation in overtime pay for twelve-hour shift employees, Emerald, through counsel, reported the potential overtime pay violation to the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, in Ohio (where Emerald is headquartered). After investigation, the Department of Labor determined that a violation occurred. On May 27, 2008, the Department filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio seeking to enjoin Emerald from continuing to violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and from continuing to withhold overtime compensation due to eighty-eight (88) employees, including all ten plaintiffs in this matter, who worked twelve-hour scheduled shifts and were paid according to Section 17A of the CBA.

The Department of Labor reviewed Emerald’s time and payroll records to calculate the amount of overtime back wages due. The Department of Labor determined that Article 17A of the CBA provided for payments of a fixed weekly amount of compensation regardless of the number of hours worked in any particular work week. The Department of Labor and Emerald entered into a Consent Judgment that enjoined Emerald from violating the overtime provisions of the FLSA and further required Emerald to tender payment to each of the subject employees in an individual amount listed in the Consent Judgment. The total amount tendered was $241,308. On July 29, 2008, U.S. District Judge Lioi entered the Consent Judgment, which set forth the specific amount of back wages due and owing to each employee.”

Plaintiffs and all other employees affected by the Secretary’s lawsuit in Ohio did not receive notice of the lawsuit, did not participate in any way in the lawsuit, did not have standing to appeal the Consent Judgment and did not have knowledge of the lawsuit until sometime after the defendant began distributing checks for unpaid overtime wages to them in August 2008.

Seventy-eight (78) employees listed in the Consent Judgment accepted the overtime back wages tendered to them. The ten plaintiffs in this case rejected the tendered amounts. On October 10, 2008, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit seeking overtime compensation under both the Federal FLSA and the Washington Minimum Wage Act (MWA). Plaintiffs are claiming back wages commencing in October 2005, before Emerald became the plaintiffs’ employer. Plaintiffs claim that Emerald has “successor liability.” Plaintiffs allege at paragraph 8 of their complaint that the Department of Labor in the Ohio action did not properly calculate the overtime back wages due.”

Discussing the proper time and a half calculation for overtime damages due in a salary misclassification case, the Court stated:

“Both the FLSA and MWA overtime provisions require an employer to pay time and one-half the regular rate of pay for all hours worked in a work week in excess of 40. 29 U.S.C. § 207 and RCW 49.46.130(1). Under the Washington Administrative Code, the term “regular rate” is determined “by dividing the amount of compensation received per week by the total number of hours worked during that week.” WAC 296-128-550. Similarly, under the United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour regulations at 29 C.F.R. § 778.109, an employee’s regular hourly rate of pay is determined “by dividing his total remuneration for employment (except statutory exclusions) in any work week by the total number of hours actually worked by him in that work week for which such compensation was paid .” Therefore, “regular rate of pay” is the same under both the FLSA and the MWA. Plaintiffs’ claims for overtime compensation under the FLSA and the Washington MWA are identical.

The Ohio District Court entered a judgment ordering payment of overtime using the flexible work week method. That judgment disposed of all claims under federal law but left open the question whether identical language under Washington law should be interpreted in the same manner as the Ohio Court interpreted federal law. There is no clear guidance from the Supreme Court on the subject and cases from different circuits seem to be split in cases with comparable or analogous circumstances. The Ninth Circuit has not weighed in on the issue.

First, the Court resolves the issue of preemption by determining that the CBA provision in question is clear and unambiguous. The parties intended to segment the wages earned by 12-hour shift employees using the flexible work week methodology. No further interpretation of the provision is necessary or possible. Because the interpretation of a CBA is not required, the state claims are not preempted in this case. Lividas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 125 (1994); Cramer v. Consolidated Freightways, Inc., 225 F.3d 683, 691 (9th Cir.2001). Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of preemption [Dkt. # 39] is DENIED.

Next the Court must review the applicable regulation and the interpretive case law to determine whether Emerald is entitled to the employer-friendly flexible work week method of calculating overtime pay under Washington state law.

Plaintiffs allege that the overtime compensation due to plaintiffs in the Ohio Consent Judgment was incorrectly calculated. The Department of Labor calculated the regular rate of pay as set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 778.109, determining that the overtime compensation due to plaintiffs was one-half the regular rate times the number of hours in excess of 40 in a work week. The federal court in Ohio, in calculating back wages, used the “fluctuating work week” method set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 778.114. This regulation allows overtime to be calculated at only half of the regular rate, rather than time and one-half the regular rate of pay under the FLSA and the MWA:

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 work week whether few or many. Where the clear mutual understanding of the parties that the fixed salary is compensation (apart from overtime premiums) for the hours worked each work week, whatever the number, rather than for working 40 hours or some other fixed weekly work, such a salary arrangement is permitted by the act if the amount of the salary is sufficient to provide compensation to the employee at a rate not less than the applicable minimum wage rate for every hour worked in those work weeks in which the number of hours he works is greatest, and if he receives extra compensation, in addition to such salary, for all overtime hours worked at a rate not less than one-half his regular rate of pay. Since the salary in such a situation is intended to compensate the employee as straight time rates for whatever hours are worked in the work week, the regular rate of the employee will vary from week to week and is determined by dividing the number of hours worked in the work week into the amount of the salary to obtain the applicable hourly rate a week. Payment for overtime hours at one-half such rate in addition to the salary satisfies the overtime pay requirements because such hours have already been compensated at the straight time regular rate, under the salary arrangement.  29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a) (emphasis added).

It is undisputed that using this method would not result in a hourly rate below the statutory minimum wage, nor is there any dispute that the number of hours plaintiffs worked each week fluctuated. The parties dispute whether the “clear mutual understanding” requirement extends only to being paid a fixed weekly salary regardless of the number of hours worked, or whether it also includes an understanding that plaintiffs will be paid overtime. Likewise, the parties disagree about whether the regulation also requires that the employee actually have been contemporaneously paid overtime.

There is no Ninth Circuit case law directly interpreting this aspect of the regulation. Plaintiffs direct the Court’s attention to the district court decision in Russell v. Wells Fargo & Co., 2009 WL 3861764 (N.D.Cal.2009), while the defendant cites to Tumulty v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 2005 WL 1979104 (W.D.Wash). Plaintiffs argue that because Emerald was not paying its employees overtime contemporaneously throughout the period in dispute, it could have no clear understanding with the employees about overtime and the rate of overtime pay to be paid. Plaintiffs argue that because there is no “clear mutual understanding” and no contemporaneous overtime pay, the flexible work week methodology is not available to Emerald here.

Although the state law of Washington is identical to the FLSA regarding calculation of overtime using the flexible work week method, this Court must choose between two conflicting lines of federal decisions. One line of cases adopts a common sense approach that requires only that so long as the parties (employer and employee) reached a clear mutual understanding that while the employee’s hours may vary, his salary will not, then the calculation of overtime pay in a subsequent action brought under the wage laws would be half-pay for each hour over 40 in a week. These courts did not require that the employee know that he would receive overtime compensation or have actually received it contemporaneously. Clements v. Serco, Inc., 530 F.3d 1224 (10th Cir.2008); Valerio v. Putnam Assoc. Inc., 173 F.3d 35, 39-40 (1st Cir.1999); Blackman v. Brookshire Grocery Co., 835 F.2d 1135, 1138 (5th Cir.1988). If the Court follows this line of cases, the Ohio judgment will represent full compensation owed the plaintiffs and this case is at an end without further payment to plaintiffs, beyond that which has already been tendered.

The second line of cases looks more closely at the language of the applicable regulation and requires both a clear mutual understanding of the parties that the fixed salary is compensation (apart from overtime premiums) for the hours worked each work week and contemporaneous payment of overtime as earned.

Here, because Emerald did not pay plaintiffs any more for overtime hours (hours worked in excess of 40 hours each week) the flexible work week method of payment for overtime hours at half the regular rate would give way to the predominant rate of compensation at time-and-a-half. This approach has been adopted by District Courts around the country: Russell v. Wells Fargo & Co., 2009 WL 3861764 (N.D.Cal.); Scott v. OTS Inc., 2006 WL 870369, *12 (N.D.Ga.); Hunter v. Sprint Corp., 453 F.Supp.2d 44, 58-62 (D.D.C.2006); Cowen v. Treetop Enters., 163 F.Supp.2d 930, 941 (M.D.Tenn.2001); Rainey v. Am. Forest & Paper Assoc., 26 F.Supp.2d 82, 99-102 (D.D.C.1998). The Court’s review of these cases, to include Overnight Motor Transport Co. v. Missel, 316 U.S. 572 (1942), and its consideration of the background and policy of the FLSA, convinces it that the flexible work week method cannot be used to calculate overtime retroactively (where it has not been paid contemporaneously with the overtime work) for the purposes of determining damages under Washington State law. The plaintiffs are entitled to pay at the rate of time-and-a-half for every hour of overtime time worked during the period of time covered by plaintiffs’ claims.

Washington courts recognize the “persuasive authority” of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and regulations promulgated pursuant to it when construing MWA provisions that are similar to those of the FLSA. Inniss v. Tandy Corporation, 141 Wash.2d 517, 524-25, 7 P.3d 807 (2000). Both the FLSA and the MWA authorize the use of the Flexible work week methodology. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114; WAC 296-128-550.

The Washington Supreme Court has expressly found that 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 provides guidance when determining the applicability of the flexible work week method under the MWA. Inniss, 141 Wash.2d at 524-25.

29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a) sets out five prerequisites for application of the flexible work week method. Griffin v. Wake County, 142 F.3d 712, 715 (4th Cir.1998). The plain terms of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(c) provide that unless “all the legal prerequisites” for applying the flexible work week method are present, an employer cannot avail itself of the flexible work week method for calculating overtime wages. In such cases where the flexible work week method cannot apply, the “statutory” method of multiplying the employee’s regular hourly rate by 1.5 and then by the number of hours worked over 40 in each work week is the applicable overtime pay computation method.

One of the prerequisites under 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a) for applying the flexible work week method is payment of the mandatory 50% overtime premium contemporaneously with payment of the employee’s regular straight time pay.   Russell v. Wells Fargo & Co., 2009 Westlaw 3861764, at *3 (N.D.Cal.2009). Defendant paid plaintiffs no wages at all for the hours for which plaintiffs seek recovery of unpaid overtime wages. Defendant therefore did not satisfy the contemporaneous overtime pay prerequisite of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a).

Another prerequisite for the flexible work week method of overtime calculation to apply is that the employer and employee must have reached a “clear mutual understanding” at the outset of their employment relationship that the employee’s fixed salary would compensate the employee for all hours worked.   Griffin, 142 F.3d at 715. This understanding must include an understanding that the employee will be compensated for his overtime work at a rate of 50% of his regular hourly rate. Russell, 2009 Westlaw 3861764, at *5.

The parties lacked the clear mutual understanding required by 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a) as evidenced by the fact that plaintiffs were paid nothing for the hours worked over 40 in various work weeks. If the employee receives no pay for overtime hours worked, the parties could not have understood that the employee was to be paid the requisite 50% overtime pay premium.

Defendant cannot avail itself of the flexible work week overtime pay computation method because two of the five prerequisites for application of that methodology were unsatisfied. The proper overtime pay computation method will be the statutory method described above.”

Thus, the Court concluded, since the Defendant was not entitled under the FLSA or Washington law to use the FWW to calculate the back-wages due for Plaintiffs, and the DOL consent judgment did not preempt the instant action, Plaintiffs were entitled to seek their proper time and a half damages under Washington law, notwithstanding the prior consent judgment.

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Filed under Department of Labor, Fluctuating Workweek

D.N.J.: Defendants’ Purported Use Of Fluctuating Workweek (FWW) Violated FLSA, Because They Did Not Pay Plaintiffs A “Fixed Amount As Straight Time Pay”

Adeva v. Intertek USA, Inc.

This case was before the Court on the parties respective Motions for Summary Judgment on a variety of issues.  Significantly, the Defendants purported to pay Plaintiffs under a Fluctuating Workweek methodology, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. §778.114.  Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court rejected this claim, holding that since Defendants failed to pay Plaintiffs a “fixed amount as straight time pay” each week, the pay methodology at issue violated the FLSA.

In framing the issue, the Court stated, “[t]he essential question is whether Defendants paid Plaintiffs on a proper Fluctuating Workweek (‘FWW’) method pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a). Defendants pay Plaintiffs a percentage of their annual salary, and, if eligible, ‘day off pay,’ ‘off shore pay,’ and ‘holiday pay.’ Plaintiff alleges that because of such special payments, Defendants cannot demonstrate that the amount paid each week was “fixed.” A “fixed amount as straight time pay” is necessary to apply the FWW under the Fair Labor Standards Act. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a).”

Reasoning that the pay method at issue did not comply with the FLSA, the Court discussed the general principles of the FLSA and the specific pre-requisites for application of the FWW.

“29 U.S.C. § 207(a) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires the payment of overtime compensation “at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate.” The fluctuating workweek method (“FWW”) provides an alternative for calculating overtime premiums when certain conditions are met. In short, to apply the FWW method, Defendants must demonstrate that:

1) Plaintiffs’ hours fluctuate from week to week, 2) Plaintiffs receive a fixed salary that does not vary with the number of hours worked during each workweek (excluding overtime premiums), 3) the fixed amount received by Plaintiffs provides compensation every week at a regular rate that is at least equal to the minimum wage, and 4) that Defendants and Plaintiffs share a ‘clear mutual understanding’ that Defendants will pay that fixed salary regardless of the number of hours worked. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a); O’Brien v. Town of Agawam, 350 F.3d 279, 288 (1st Cir.2003); Flood v. New Hanover, 125 F.3d 249, 252 (4th Cir.1997).

The essential question before the Court is whether Defendants have met the prerequisites for applying the FWW method. The Court is not convinced that Defendants pay Plaintiffs “a fixed salary that does not vary with the number of hours worked during each workweek (excluding overtime premiums).” 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a). 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. See, e.g., O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 288 (holding that a ten-dollar night-shift increase precluded application of the FWW); Ayers v. SGS Control Services, Inc., 2007 WL 646326 (S.D.N.Y.2007) (holding “any Plaintiff who received sea pay or day-off pay did not have fixed weekly straight time pay, in violation of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a).”); Dooley v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, 369 F.Supp.2d 81, 86 (D.Mass.2005) (holding that payment of a premium rate for weekend work precludes application of the FWW).

Most recently, the Southern District of New York was faced with the identical issue currently before this Court. Ayers, 2007 WL 646326. In granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs, that Court held that because plaintiffs received sea-pay and day-off pay, their salaries were not fixed, consequently precluding usage of the FWW method of payment. Id. at 8-9. In rendering its decision, the Ayers court relied on the O’Brien and Dooley decisions. In O’Brien, the First Circuit noted that the plain text of § 778.114 requires payment of a “fixed amount as straight time pay for whatever hours he is called upon to work in a workweek, whether few or many.”   O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 288. Guided by the statutory language, the Court held that workers who received additional compensation (in the form of a $10 shift differential payment) could not have received a fixed amount as required under § 778.114. Id. at 289;see also Dooley, 369 F.Supp.2d 81, 86 (holding that payment of a premium rate for weekend work precludes application of the FWW). The sea-pay, day-off pay, night-shift pay and weekend-pay analyzed in the Ayers, O’Brien and Dooley decisions are nearly identical to the types of payments received by Plaintiffs in this case. Clearly, the payment of differentials such as sea-pay differential or increased pay for working a “night-shift,” means that employees are not being paid a “fixed” salary regardless of hours worked. Instead, the salary fluctuates, based upon whether the employee is or is not receiving “sea-pay” or “night-shift pay.” If the regulation merely required that employees received a minimum salary every week, which could be increased by such bonuses, then Defendants’ argument would have substantial force. The regulation, however, contains no such thing. Consequently, the Court holds that Defendants are precluded from using the FWW method of payment as such premiums and bonuses run afoul of the “fixed salary” requirement of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a). Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is granted, in part, as Defendants’ FWW compensation methodology violates the FLSA.”

Although not discussed here, the Court granted Defendants’ Cross Motion, in part, holding that Defendants’ FLSA violation(s) were not willful.  To read more about the case click here.

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Filed under Fluctuating Workweek

N.D.Cal.: Damages In A Salary Misclassification Case Must Be Calculated At Time And A Half; Fluctuating Workweek Not Applicable Without “Clear Mutual Understanding” And/Or Contemporaneous Payments Of Overtime

Russell v. Wells Fargo and Co.

This case was before the Court on the parties’ partial Cross Motions for Summary Judgment, regarding the methodology to be applied to determine damages where, as here, an employee is misclassified and paid solely their weekly salary, despite the fact they work overtime hours.  The Plaintiffs asserted that they were due the default time and a half (1.5x) under the FLSA, but the Defendant argued that Plaintiffs’ damages should be calculated under the exception to the default rule, referred to as the Fluctuating Workweek (FWW), whereby they would receive so-called half-time in lieu of time and a half.  In a detailed well-reasoned decision, the Court agreed with the Plaintiffs, and determined that Plaintiffs were due time and a half for all overtime hours worked, because Defendant could not meet several of the elements required for the application of the FWW.

The Court framed the following 3 issues for resolution on the Motions:

“1. Whether it is possible to have the required “clear mutual understanding” necessary to compute damages by the fluctuating workweek method (FWW method) in an exempt/non-exempt misclassification case;

2. Whether the concurrent payment of overtime pay is a required element to compute unpaid overtime by the FWW method, such that the FWW method of overtime calculation cannot be used in an exempt/non-exempt misclassification case; and

3. Whether damages (if any) on the FLSA overtime claim of an opt-in plaintiff who resides in California or Connecticut can be computed by the FWW method.”

Denying Defendant’s Motion seeking to apply the FWW, and granting Plaintiffs’ Motion to apply the time and a half default standard, for calculating Plaintiffs’ damages, the Court explained:

“Defendants argue that the FWW method can be used to calculate overtime pay retroactively for the purposes of determining damages in an exempt misclassification case. They assert that the FWW method is available when the employer and employee have a clear mutual understanding that a fixed salary will compensate the employee for all hours worked in a week, including those in excess of the FLSA’s forty-hour maximum, even if the “understanding” is based on the employer’s erroneous premise that the employee is exempt and thus not entitled to overtime pay. Defendants’ argument is untenable. The FWW method cannot be used to calculate overtime pay retroactively in a misclassification case.

As noted above, section 778.114 contains legal prerequisites, which employers must first satisfy to use the discounted overtime rate available through the FWW method. These prerequisites include (1) a clear mutual understanding that a fixed salary will be paid for fluctuating hours, apart from overtime premiums; and (2) the contemporaneous payment of overtime premiums.

When an employee is not exempt and is paid a fixed salary for fluctuating hours, the employer can satisfy these prerequisites. The employer and employee must have a clear mutual understanding of the fixed salary which, by law, must include an understanding that an overtime premium will be paid for any hours worked over the forty-hour-per-week maximum. Because both parties understand that overtime hours will be compensated, overtime pay would be provided contemporaneously.

When an employee is treated as exempt from being paid for overtime work, there is neither a clear mutual understanding that overtime will be paid nor a contemporaneous payment of overtime. Thus, when an employee is erroneously classified as exempt and illegally not being paid overtime, neither of these legal prerequisites for use of the FWW method is satisfied.

First, an effective clear mutual understanding is absent in misclassification cases. Defendants assert that an employer could have a clear mutual understanding with its employees that the employees would be paid a flat weekly rate for fluctuating hours, including those hours worked in excess of forty, and would not receive overtime pay. Defendants essentially argue that misclassified employees have implicitly agreed not to receive their FLSA entitlement to overtime pay. This would be illegal. Employees cannot agree to waive their right to overtime pay. See Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight Sys., Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739-40 (1981).

Second, because the employees were erroneously classified as exempt, overtime compensation was not provided contemporaneously. Employers cannot satisfy this requirement, after having been found to violate section 207, by claiming that they had intended to pay overtime; such an after-the-fact provision of overtime compensation was rejected by the Supreme Court in Overnight Motor. See 316 U .S. at 581 (rejecting the employer’s attempt to use FWW method where there was “no provision for additional pay in the event the hours worked required minimum compensation greater than the fixed wage”). As stated above, 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(c) requires contemporaneous overtime pay: the FWW method cannot be used “where all the facts indicate that an employee is being paid for his overtime hours at a rate no greater than that which he receives for nonovertime hours.” 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(c). In a misclassification case, because employees have not been paid overtime premiums, they are compensated for those hours worked more than forty at a rate not greater than the regular rate.

If Defendants’ position were adopted, an employer, after being held liable for FLSA violations, would be able unilaterally to choose to pay employees their unpaid overtime premium under the more employer-friendly of the two calculation methods. Given the remedial purpose of the FLSA, it would be incongruous to allow employees, who have been illegally deprived of overtime pay, to be shortchanged further by an employer who opts for the discount accommodation intended for a different situation.

In making its decision here, the Court is “mindful of the directive that the [FLSA] is to be liberally construed to apply to the furthest reaches consistent with Congressional direction.” Klem v. County of Santa Clara, 208 F.3d 1085, 1089 (9th Cir.2000) (quoting Biggs v. Wilson, 1 F.3d 1537, 1539 (9th Cir.1993)) (quotation marks and alterations omitted).

The Ninth Circuit has not directly addressed the question of whether the FWW method may be used retroactively to compensate employees who have been misclassified as exempt.FN4 In Oliver v.. Mercy Medical Center, the court concluded that the FWW method could not be used to calculate liquidated damages pursuant to 29 U.S .C. § 216, in part because the plaintiff-employee and the defendant-employer did not agree to a fixed salary covering all hours worked in a week. See 695 F.2d 379, 381 (9th Cir.1982). Oliver confirms that an employer and employee must, at the least, agree to a fixed salary for fluctuating hours. But its holding does not address whether the FWW method can be applied retrospectively to calculate overtime pay in a misclassification case. To the extent the holding is silent on this point, there is no binding Ninth Circuit precedent.

In Bailey v. County of Georgetown, 94 F.3d 152 (4th Cir.1996), non-exempt employees challenged their employer’s use of the FWW method to calculate their overtime pay. Instead of compensating overtime at the time-and-a-half rate, the employer opted for the FWW method and paid a one-half time premium based on fluctuating hours. Id. at 153-54. The employees claimed that this was improper, arguing that the FWW method could only apply if it was shown that they “clearly understood the manner in which their overtime pay was being calculated under the plan.” Id. at 154. The court disagreed. The Fourth Circuit determined that neither the plain language of the FLSA nor section 778.114 required an understanding on how overtime would be calculated; according to the court, all that section 778.114 requires is a clear mutual understanding of a fixed salary for fluctuating hours. Id. at 156-57. The court provided no additional analysis. And because the case involved non-exempt employees who were paid overtime, the court had no occasion to address whether contemporaneous overtime pay was a requirement.

Thus, Bailey did not address remedial payment to misclassified employees. Nonetheless, the First and Tenth Circuits applied its rule to misclassification cases. See, e.g., Clements v. Serco, Inc., 530 F.3d 1224 (10th Cir.2008); Valerio v. Putnam Associates, 173 F.3d 35 (1st Cir.1999). In Clements and Valerio, the courts held that the FWW method can be used to calculate overtime pay retroactively. But Clements and Valerio merely cite Bailey. Neither provides a substantive analysis or explains why Bailey should apply in the misclassification context. See Clements, 530 F.3d at 1230; Valerio, 173 F.3d at 40. The Fourth Circuit similarly applied Bailey’s interpretation of section 778.114 in the misclassification context without analysis. See Roy v. County of Lexington, South Carolina, 141 F.3d 533, 547 (4th Cir.1998). In Blackmon v. Brookshire Grocery Company, the Fifth Circuit applied the FWW method in a misclassification case. 835 F.2d 1135, 1138 (5th Cir.1988). Blackmon, like the other cases above, offers no explanation. See 835 F.2d at 1138-39.

District courts outside these circuits have held that the FWW method cannot be used in misclassification cases. In Rainey v. American Forest & Paper Association, the court analyzed section 778.114 and found that its requirements include a clear mutual understanding that the employee is entitled to overtime compensation and contemporaneous payment of overtime premiums. 26 F.Supp.2d 82, 99-102 (D.D.C.1998); see also Hunter v. Sprint Corp., 453 F.Supp.2d 44, 58-62 (D.D.C.2006) (discussing application of the FWW method in a misclassification case). Other courts have rejected the use of the FWW method in misclassification cases because there is no contemporaneous payment of overtime compensation in such cases. See, e.g., Cowan v. Treetop Enters., 163 F.Supp.2d 930, 941 (M.D.Tenn.2001) (citing Rainey ); Scott v. OTS Inc., 2006 WL 870369, *12 (N.D.Ga.) (citing Rainey ).

Defendants reject many of the other cases cited by Plaintiffs because “they are not in the exemption misclassification context.” Defs.’ Reply at 12. However, Bailey, the case relied upon by most of the cases cited by Defendants, was likewise not in the exemption misclassification context. Thus, Defendants’ argument undermines their reliance on Valerio, Clements and Roy. Accordingly, the Court does not follow Bailey and its progeny: Bailey is not on point, and the cases that rely on it are not persuasive.

The Court is similarly unpersuaded by the DOL’s January 14 letter. Generally, courts must defer to the expertise of an agency in interpreting statutes that Congress charged to administer. See Cent. Ariz. Water Conservation Dist. v. EPA, 990 F.2d 1531, 1539-40 (9th Cir.1993) (citing Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Nat’l Res. Def. Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984)). However, opinion letters do not warrant such deference; under Skidmore v. Swift, 323 U.S. 134, 140 (1944), they are to be accorded respect, not deference. An opinion letter is entitled to respect to the extent that it has the “power to persuade.” See Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576, 587 (2000).

The opinion letter does not explain why the FWW method should be applied retrospectively, despite the plain language of the DOL’s long-standing interpretation of the FLSA contained in § 778.114. The letter relies solely upon Clements and Valerio to explain the DOL’s new position, and it goes no further to detail why the DOL was departing from its forty-year-old interpretation. Given the DOL’s significant change in course, this explanation is insufficient. Further, the DOL’s prior abandoned effort to revise § 778.114(a) through notice-and-comment rulemaking, and the timing of the opinion letter’s release-less than one week before a change in the administration-detract from its persuasiveness. Deferring to the letter “would permit the agency, under the guise of interpreting a regulation, to create de facto a new regulation.” Christensen, 529 U.S. at 588. The DOL cannot use the letter to make a substantive regulatory change that would have the force of law. See id. at 587. The letter lacks thoroughness in its explanation and consistency with the DOL’s earlier FLSA interpretation. The Court is not persuaded by it. See id. (citing Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140).

Thus, the background and policy of the FLSA, the Supreme Court’s decision in Overnight Motor and the DOL’s 1968 interpretive rules demonstrate that the FWW method cannot be used to calculate overtime pay retroactively for the purposes of determining damages under the FLSA in a misclassification case. Section 778.114, which the DOL promulgated in light of Overnight Motor, provides legal prerequisites that cannot be satisfied in a misclassification case.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the Court interprets § 778.114 to restrict application of the FWW method to calculate overtime pay to situations where (1) there is a clear mutual understanding between an employer and employee that the employee will be paid a fixed salary for fluctuating weekly hours but nonetheless receive overtime premiums and (2) overtime is compensated contemporaneously. The Court therefore DENIES Defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment and GRANTS Plaintiffs’ cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the first and second stipulated legal issues. Based upon these holdings, the Court need not decide the third stipulated issue. Accordingly, the Court DENIES as moot Defendants’ and Plaintiffs’ motions for partial summary judgment on the third stipulated legal issue.”

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Filed under Damages, Exemptions, Fluctuating Workweek

W.D.Va.: “Assistant Manager” At Auto Parts Store Not Administrative Exempt; Damages To Be Calculated At Time And A Half Not Half-time

Brown v. Nipper Auto Parts and Supplies, Inc.

The case was before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment pertaining to whether Plaintiff was exempt from the FLSA’s overtime provisions under the FLSA. Additionally, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the issues of willfulness (3 year statute, as well as liquidated damages), and for a finding that the method under which his overtime should be calculated was the default time and a half method. As discussed below, the Court found Plaintiff nonexempt and further held that his damages were due to be calculated based on time and a half and not the fluctuating workweek’s half-time formula.

Addressing the exemption issue first, the Court noted, “Brown’s primary duties were sales and other non-exempt work, not running or servicing; the business. Nipper Auto attempts to characterize Brown’s duties as procurement and quality control, exempt activities; but since his activities generally concerned ordering auto parts based on customers’ requests, these duties are more aptly described as sales, a non-exempt activity. Roger Nipper has indicated no significant managerial decisions or changes that he has made during Brown’s tenure at Nipper Auto in which Brown had input. Indeed, Nipper Auto’s music section, where Brown is purported to have had primary authority, existed before Brown’s hiring and has continued to exist after his termination. Finally, Brown’s intermittent supervision of Shultz fails to show that his primary duty was an exempt activity.” Therefore, the Court found Brown nonexempt.

Later in the decision, the Court addressed the issue of calculating Plaintiff’s damages: “Nipper Auto argues that if Brown is entitled to overtime compensation, it should be calculated using the fluctuating workweek method of payment (the “FWW”), under which an employee’s overtime pay rate is half his regular pay rate. Brown argues that the FWW should not apply and that his overtime compensation rate should be one and one-half times his regular rate. The court agrees with Brown.

Generally, the rate for overtime compensation is one and one-half times the regular rate of pay, 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), but when the FWW method applies, the rate for overtime compensation is one-half the regular pay. 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a) (2003); Knight v. Morris, 693 F.Supp. 439, 445 (W.D.Va.1988). The FWW method is not an exception to the normal method of computing overtime compensation under the FLSA, “[i]t merely provides an alternative means by which an employer can determine its employees’ regular and overtime rate of pay.” Flood v. New Hanover County, 125 F.3d 249, 252 (4th Cir.1997). The employer must satisfy five conditions in order to take advantage of the FWW calculation: (1) the employee’s hours must fluctuate from week to week, (2) the employee must receive a fixed salary, (3) the salary must meet the minimum wage standards, (4) the employee and the employer must have a clear mutual understanding that the salary (not including overtime premiums) is fixed regardless of the number of hours the employee works, and (5) the employee must receive overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of forty hours, not less than the one-half rate of pay. Id.; 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(a). Though the first three FWW requirements are established, the court finds that the FWW method does not apply because Nipper Auto cannot fulfill the fourth and fifth requirements.

Under the fourth requirement, the parties must have a clear mutual understanding that “the fixed salary is to be compensation for all straight time hours worked, whether few or many.” Mayhew, 125 F.3d at 219. The burden is on the employer to show the existence of a clear mutual understanding. Monahan v. County of Chesterfield, 95 F.3d 1263, 1275 n. 12 (4th Cir.1996). If the employer believed the employee was exempt from overtime compensation, “then it was not possible … to have had a clear mutual understanding … that [the employee] was subject to [a] calculation method applicable only to non-exempt employees who are entitled to overtime compensation.” Cowan v. Treetop Enter., 163 F.Supp.2d 930, 942 (M.D.Tenn.2001); (quoting Rainey v. Am. Forest & Paper Ass’n Inc., 26 F.Supp.2d 82, 102 (D.D.C.1998)).

Nipper Auto cannot establish the fourth requirement because its principal argument is that Brown is an FLSA-exempt employee not entitled to any overtime compensation; in the alternative, Nipper Auto argues that the parties had an implied understanding with Brown regarding his salary and overtime compensation. If Nipper Auto believed Brown was exempt, the requisite clear mutual understanding for the application of the FWW method could not have existed. Rainey, 26 F.Supp.2d at 102. Both parties understood that Brown would receive no additional salary no matter how many hours he worked in a given week, but § 778.114(a) specifies that the fixed salary does not include overtime premiums. The court finds that, because Nipper Auto believed Brown was an FLSA-exempt employee, it has failed to create a material issue of fact as to the clear mutual understanding required to apply the FWW method.

In addition to this clear mutual understanding, under the fifth FWW requirement, the employer must also demonstrate that the employee has actually received some form of overtime compensation. See Cowan, 163 F.Supp.2d at 941 (“Moreover, to comply 29 C.F.R. Section 778.114 requires a contemporaneous payment of the half-time premium for an employer to avail itself of the fluctuating workweek provision.”). Indeed, the Fourth Circuit has applied the FWW method only when the employee has received contemporaneous payment for overtime. See generally Flood, 125 F.3d at 252 (applying the FWW where the employer contemporaneously provided some form of overtime compensation); Griffin, 142 F.3d at 715 (same); Mayhew, 125 F.3d at 218 (same). It is undisputed that Nipper Auto did not pay Brown any overtime compensation during his employment. Because no form of overtime compensation was provided, Nipper Auto cannot apply the FWW method retroactively. Flood, 125 F.3d at 249; Griffin, 142 F.3d at 716. The court finds that Nipper Auto’s evidence is insufficient to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that Brown is subject to the FWW method of compensation; therefore, Brown’s overtime pay rate is one and one-half times his regular rate of pay. The court grants Brown’s motion for summary judgment on this matter.”

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Filed under Damages, Exemptions, Fluctuating Workweek