Category Archives: Work Time

D.Md.: Loading/Unloading of Materials Could Be Deemed “Integral and Indispensable” for Fire Protection Services; DMSJ Denied

Ross v. Wolf Fire Protection, Inc.

Plaintiffs, employees who installed fire protection services (sprinklers) on behalf of their employer, filed this lawsuit claiming that Defendant failed to pay them for all of their compensable work time.  Specifically, Plaintiffs asserted that Defendant improperly failed to start their work day each day when they were required to come to Defendant’s facility to pick up expensive tools necessary for their work and load Defendant’s trucks.  Similarly, Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant failed to properly pay them for time spent when they were required to return such tools (and work vehicles) to Defendant’s facility at the end of each work day.  The Defendant argued that such time was precluded by the Portal-to-Portal Act, and in any event was de minimus such that it was not compensable time.  The court held that the facts could support a finding that such time was “integral and indispensable” to their work, thus making it potentially compensable.  As such, it denied Defendant’s motion.

Rejecting Defendant’s contentions, the court reasoned:

“The Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs “have never been instructed or directed to come to the [warehouse] before the start of the workday or at the end of the workday to pick up or drop off tools,” so loading of equipment at the warehouse cannot be an integral and indispensable part of their jobs. Defs.’ Mot. 7. The Plaintiffs contend that loading the equipment was integral because the equipment was necessary to installing sprinkler systems, and the Defendants required that they pick up the equipment at the warehouse. Pl.’s Opp’n 2–4.

An activity is “integral and indispensable” to the employee’s principal activities if it is “(1) necessary to the principal work performed and (2) done for the benefit of the employer.” Perez, 601 F.Supp.2d at 676 (citing Alvarez v. IBP, Inc., 399 F.3d 894, 902–03 (9th Cir.2003)).

The parties do not dispute that the Plaintiffs’ principal work was sprinkler system installation. See Defs.’ Mot. 6; Pls.’ Opp’n 2. Phillips’s affidavit is that the equipment he loaded and unloaded included items “necessary” to installing the sprinkler systems, such as the sprinkler heads, and because this equipment was expensive, Fire Protection “did not want [it] delivered directly to the job site” and “required [employees] to pick the[ ] [equipment] up at the warehouse, sign for [it], and account for [it].” Phillips Aff. ¶ 9.

From the evidence in Phillips’s affidavit, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Phillips needed the equipment loaded at the warehouse to complete his job (the first part of the “integral and indispensable” inquiry).  From his testimony that Fire Protection did not want expensive items delivered directly to the job sites, and required that the pipefitters pick up and sign for the equipment, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the loading and unloading was “done for the benefit of the employer.”  It is genuinely disputed whether Fire Protection required the plaintiffs to load and unload equipment, and whether the loading and unloading was “integral” to their “principal activity” requiring compensation under the FLSA.”

Rejecting Defendant’s contention that Plaintiffs were not entitled to be paid for travel time, the court explained:

“The Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs’ “voluntary carpooling” while “transporting tools, equipment and supplies” is not compensable under the FLSA. Defs.’ Reply 4. The Plaintiffs contend that because their workday started with loading the trucks at the warehouse, they must be compensated for all subsequent travel time within the workday. Pls.’ Opp’n 3–5.

The Portal–to–Portal Act did not change the “continuous workday” rule that “any walking, riding, or traveling time that occurs after the beginning of the employee’s first principal activity and before the end of the employee’s last principal activity … is covered by the FLSA.” Epps, 2011 WL 1566004, at *5 (internal quotation marks omitted). Applicable regulations provide that:

Time spent by an employee in travel as part of his principal activity, such as travel from job site to job site during the workday must be counted as hours worked. Where an employee is required to report to a meeting place … to pick up and to carry tools, the travel from the designated place to the work place is part of the day’s work, and must be counted as hours worked regardless of contract, custom, or practice.  29 C.F.R. § 785.38.

As discussed above, Phillips’s affidavit that Fire Protection required him to report to the warehouse to load and sign out expensive equipment Fire Protection did not want delivered directly to the job site creates a genuine dispute whether the loading and unloading was a principal activity. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, it also creates a genuine dispute about whether travel from the warehouse to the job site and the return to the warehouse at the end of the day are “part of the day’s work” requiring compensation under the FLSA.  The Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the Plaintiffs’ FLSA unpaid wages claim will be denied.”

The issues discussed in this case are far from unique in the work world.  However, many employers continue to violate the law, assuming that they need only pay employees for time spent at customer work sites, where the employer is profiting from the employees’ work.  This case serves as a reminder that this is a misconception of the law.

Click Ross v. Wolf Fire Protection, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum and Opinion.

 

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W.D.Pa.: Security Guards Not Entitled to Be Paid For Pre- and Postliminary Work or Time Spent Cleaning Uniforms, As Required By Employer; Complaint Dismissed

Schwartz v. Victory Sec. Agency, LP

This case was before the court on defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint for failure to state a claim. The plaintiffs, security guards employed by defendant, alleged that the defendant has failed to properly compensate them for pre- and post- shift work that defendant required them to perform as part of their jobs. In its decision, the court agreed, largely citing in apposite case law in support of its decision.

First, the court held that time spent performing pre- and post-liminary duties required by defendant, for which no compensation was received, was precluded by the portal-to-portal act. Accepting the facts underlying this claim, as required on the motion to dismiss the court explained:

“Throughout the relevant time period, Defendant ex-pected Plaintiffs “to be available to work before commencement of their shift, during their promised meal break and after completion of their assigned shift for work-related tasks.” Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiffs per-formed pre-shift work including: receiving pass down instructions, checking equipment, reviewing post orders, collecting schedules, meeting with supervisors, guarding, monitoring, patrolling, inspecting, and surveying. Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiffs regularly performed post-shift work that included: preparing logs and event reports, collecting schedules, meeting with supervisors and providing pass down instructions. Id. at ¶ 29. Such work was undertaken by Plaintiffs for approximately 15–30 minutes of pre-shift work each day and 15 minutes to two hours of post-shift work per week. Id. at ¶¶ 26, 36. Defendant knew that such work was regularly performed because “Defendant’s agents regularly encouraged, instructed, suffered and per-mitted” Plaintiffs to perform this work and observed them doing so. Id. at ¶¶ 22, 31. Plaintiffs did not receive full compensation for the pre-shift and post-shift work that they performed because Defendant’s timekeeping and pay practices improperly placed the burden on Plaintiffs. Id. at ¶ 23, 33. Defendants also failed to implement any rules, systems or procedures to prohibit Plaintiffs from performing such work or to ensure that they were properly paid for such work. Id. at ¶ 24, 34.”

Notwithstanding these detailed allegations, the court concluded “Plaintiffs do not detail how Defendant’s failed to compensate them for pre- and post-shift work” and dismissed the claim (without prejudice) on this basis.

Addressing plaintiffs’ second claim, regarding defendant’s failure to pay them for time (1 to 2 hours per week) they were required to spend cleaning their uniforms, in order to meet defendant’s dress code requirements, the court found this claim equally unavailing. After a brief discussion of recent case law regarding the definition of tasks that are integral to work (so as to make them compensible), the court summarily concluded that “[h]ere… while Plaintiffs may have been required to wear and therefore maintain their uniforms, such actions were not integral and indispensible to Plaintiffs’ principal activity, providing security.” In so doing, the court ignored the obvious parallels of the uniform maintenance to other cases where courts found that similar activities were integral (i.e. feeding, training and walking of K-9 dogs by police officers while “off-duty”).  Given the fact that the defendant required the plaintiffs to wear these uniforms, and that they maintain the uniforms in a presentable fashion it is unclear how the court reached its conclusion in this regard.

It will be interesting to see whether the plaintiffs will appeal this decision, which seems to be out of line with prevailing authority outside of the Third Circuit regarding these issues.

Click Schwartz v. Victory Sec. Agency, LP to read the entire Decision.

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2d. Cir.: Where Employee’s Falsification of Time Records Was Carried Out at Employer’s Behest, Employer Cannot Be Exonerated by Fact That Employee Entered Erroneous Hours on Timesheets

Kuebel v. Black & Decker Inc.

This case was before the Second Circuit on Plaintiff’s appeal of an order awarding Defendant summary judgment.  Plaintiff asserted two distinct claims below: (1) that work performed on his PDA and in Defendant’s computer system (at home) extended his continuous workday such that Defendant’s failure to pay him for all time up to including such work was a violation of the FLSA; and (2) that he was entitled to be paid for off-the-clock work that he did not report because his supervisors instructed him not to.  While the court affirmed summary judgment on the “continuous workday” claim, it reversed as to the off-the-clock claim, holding that “[a]t least where the employee’s falsifications were carried out at the instruction of the employer or the employer’s agents, the employer cannot be exonerated by the fact that the employee physically entered the erroneous hours into the timesheets.”

With respect to the off-the-clock claims, the relevant facts cited by the court were:

“[plaintiff] asserts that he falsified his timesheets because his supervisors instructed him not to record more than forty hours per week. He testified that at monthly meetings, “there was always a point that [Idigo] and Mr. Davolt and [another manager] would always indicate that we [Retail Specialists] were not to put more than forty hours on our time sheet,” and that Davolt “told all of the reps that they were only to record forty hours a week, … no matter what they worked during that particular week.” Kuebel further testified that during a personal discussion with Davolt on February 22, 2007, Davolt said to him, “you can’t work overtime, you’re only supposed to put forty hours on your timecard.”

Discussing the viability of the off-the-clock claims that Plaintiff asserts he was owed overtime wages for time he allegedly worked, but admittedly did not report, the court first discussed the general legal principles applicable to FLSA claims where the Plaintiff alleges Defendant failed in its recordkeeping obligations (to maintain accurate time records), under Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 686–87 (1946).  The court below had determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to Anderson’s lenient burden of proof where, as here, he acknowledged that he falsified his own records.  However, the Second Circuit disagreed, holding:

“At least where the employee’s falsifications were carried out at the instruction of the employer or the employer’s agents, the employer cannot be exonerated by the fact that the employee physically entered the erroneous hours into the timesheets. As the district court emphasized, Kuebel admits that it was he who falsified his timesheets, notwithstanding B & D’s official policy requiring accurate recordkeeping. But his testimony—which must be credited at the summary judgement stage—was that he did so because his managers instructed him not to record more than forty hours per week. He specifically testified that at company meetings and during discussions with one of his supervisors, it was conveyed to him that he was not to record overtime no matter how many hours he actually worked. In other words, Kuebel has testified that it was B & D, through its managers, that caused the inaccuracies in his timesheets. While ultimately a factfinder might or might not credit this testimony, that is a determination for trial, not summary judgment. In sum, we hold that because Kuebel has presented evidence indicating that his employer’s records are inaccurate—and that although it was he who purposefully rendered them inaccurate, he did so at his managers’ direction—the district court should have afforded Kuebel the benefit of Anderson’s “just and reasonable inference” standard. See Allen, 495 F.3d at 1317–18 (finding just and reasonable inference standard applicable at summary judgment where plaintiffs had not recorded overtime, but “testified that they were discouraged from accurately recording overtime work on their time sheets, and were encouraged to falsify their own records by submitting time sheets that reflected their scheduled, rather than actual, hours”).  A contrary conclusion would undermine the remedial goals of the FLSA, as it would permit an employer to obligate its employees to record their own time, have its managers unofficially pressure them not to record overtime, and then, when an employee sues for unpaid overtime, assert that his claim fails because his timesheets do not show any overtime.”

Given the procedural posture of the case, the court found that Plaintiff had presented an issue of fact for the jury to decide, thus rendering summary judgment inappropriate, reasoning:

“Ultimately, the dispute as to the precise amount of Kuebel’s uncompensated work is one of fact for trial. As stated above, a plaintiff establishes a violation of the FLSA by proving that he performed uncompensated work of which his employer was or should have been aware. The Anderson test simply addresses whether there is a reasonable basis for calculating damages, assuming that a violation has been shown. Brown, 534 F.3d at 596. It does not entitle an employer to summary judgment where the employee’s estimates of his uncompensated overtime are somewhat inconsistent.

The district court further held that, in any event, the following evidence was sufficient to “negate the inference that [Kuebel] had performed work off-the-clock”: (1) B & D’s written policies and training materials stating that time worked must be accurately recorded; (2) Kuebel’s own time records; and (3) Beacon reports for Kuebel showing low in-store hours. Kuebel II, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46533, at *39–40. We disagree. B & D’s evidence raises factual and credibility questions for trial, but it does not afford a basis for summary judgment. First, while the existence of B & D’s official policies requiring accurate timekeeping may detract from Kuebel’s credibility, it does not entitle B & D to judgment as a matter of law in light of Kuebel’s testimony that he was instructed by his managers not to record all of his hours. Second, that Kuebel’s timesheets do not show any overtime does not resolve the central question necessitating a trial, which, as we have seen, is whether Kuebel worked overtime but did not record it at his managers’ behest. Finally, to the extent that Kuebel’s Beacon hours—or, for that matter, his manager’s testimony that the condition of his stores was often subpar—suggest that Kuebel typically worked less than forty hours a week, such evidence also raises a factual issue for trial.”

Similarly, the court held that Plaintiff had created an issue of fact despite Defendant’s contention that it lacked knowledge of any unrecorded off-the-clock hours allegedly worked by Plaintiff, stating:

“We conclude that Kuebel has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether B & D knew he was working off the clock. Kuebel testified that on several occasions, he specifically complained to his supervisor, Davolt, that he was working more than forty hours per week but recording only forty. The district court discounted Kuebel’s testimony, relying on the fact that he never lodged a formal complaint using B & D’s anonymous reporting hotline. Id. at *44–45. But while that fact might conceivably hurt Kuebel’s credibility at trial, it does not warrant summary judgment for B & D.”

While it remains to be seen whether Plaintiff will actually prevail on his claims, given the FLSA’s non-delegable duty on employers, there can be little question that the Second Circuit reached the correct conclusion in holding that an employer who requires an employee to falsify his or her time records may not then benefit from such falsification.  Stay tuned to see how this one turns out…

Click Kuebel v. Black & Decker Inc. to read the entire opinion.

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D.Kan.: FLSA Plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel Entry Into Defendant’s Facility To Conduct A Time & Motion Study Related To “Walk Time” Claims Granted

McDonald v. Kellogg Co.

In this Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) wage and hour case, plaintiffs, current and former hourly production employees at defendant’s bakery facility, claimed that defendant violated the overtime provisions of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., by, among other things, failing to compensate them for time spent walking to and from workstations.  Following a ruling on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment– which in part held that plaintiffs’ time spent walking to their workstations was compensable– plaintiffs’ moved to compel defendant to allow entry into its facility for the purpose of conducting a time and motion study related to plaintiffs’ walk time.

Describing the plaintiffs’ proposed study the court explained:

“Plaintiffs have served a request, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 34, seeking access to defendant’s bakery facility for their expert, Dr. Kenneth S. Mericle, to gather data on the time employees spend walking to and from their workstations (see doc. 195). Dr. Mericle proposes to use Radio Frequency Identification technology (“RFID”) to gather this data.  To conduct an RFID study, Dr. Mericle would first place electronic readers at the employees’ locker rooms and at the time clocks outside their workstations. Next, Dr. Mericle would issue credit-card-sized cards to employees to carry with them during the study. When the cards pass in the proximity of the readers, a time stamp in the reader would record the time that the employee passed through the area. Thus, the readers would record the time that card-carrying employees leave the locker room and the time that they arrive at the workstations (and vice versa). In addition, Dr. Mericle would place small sensors at various locations in the factory, such as bathrooms, to register detours in the employees’ paths to and from their workstations. Plaintiffs suggest that only Dr. Mericle and, perhaps, one other individual would need to be on-site during the study to ensure that there are no problems with the RFID equipment.

Plaintiffs request that Dr. Mericle enter defendant’s facility on two occasions. On the first entry, Dr. Mericle would simply observe plant conditions and employee habits in order to plan placement locations for the RFID readers and sensors. On the second entry, Dr. Mericle would set up the readers and sensors, and issue cards to the employees. Plaintiffs propose that the study then be conducted over a period of several days.

Defendant objects to the RFID study as overreaching discovery. Defendant asserts that nothing in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires it to alter its factory by attaching readers and sensors to its property, or to mandate that its employees carry reader cards. According to defendant, the proposed RFID study is overly broad and burdensome.”

Granting plaintiffs’ motion, the court reasoned:

“In objecting to plaintiffs’ proposed RFID study, defendant broadly asserts that “[c]onducting such a study during working hours will consume considerable time at [defendant's] expense, will interfere with operations, potentially jeopardize the safety of individuals conducting the study, and expose [defendant's] proprietary production processes to disclosure to third parties.”  Defendant suggests that plaintiffs can estimate employee walking time much more simply by measuring the distances between employee locker rooms and workstations, and then using expert information concerning reasonable walk times.

The court rejects defendant’s objections and grants plaintiffs’ motion to compel. Pursuant to Rules 34(a)(2) and 26(b)(1), the court clearly has the authority to order access to defendant’s facility for the purpose of conducting the RFID study and gathering relevant walk-time data. While there may be, as defendant suggests, alternate means to gather data regarding employee walking time, such is not the test for determining whether the discovery requested should be compelled. Defendant is not at liberty to dictate how plaintiffs should gather information to support their case.  Rather, the rules permit plaintiffs to enter defendant’s property for the purpose of gathering relevant information unless defendant makes a “particularized showing” that the discovery plaintiffs propose would create an undue burden or danger. Defendant has made no attempt to meet this burden-defendant has not submitted an affidavit discussing the burdens or dangers that would accompany the proposed RFID study, nor has defendant even “provide[d] a detailed explanation as to the nature and extent of the claimed burden.”  Although during the hearing defense counsel requested an opportunity to supplement the record in this regard, the undersigned denied defendant’s tardy request for a second bite at the apple.

Considering the record as it stands, the court finds that defendant has offered no support for its conclusory assertion that the proposed RFID study would consume a considerable amount of defendant’s time and would interfere with defendant’s operations. As plaintiffs explained at the hearing, the readers and sensors can be placed unobtrusively and without having to make permanent modifications to defendant’s property. They will record no data other than the time that the cards pass in their vicinity. Indeed, this proposed methodology appears to be less intrusive than other methods of conducting time and motion studies (e.g., videotaping employees or having experts follow employees as they walk the designated paths). With regard to defendant’s concern that its proprietary information is at risk, the Stipulated Protective Order already entered in this case (doc. 56) is sufficient to protect defendant’s trade secrets.

Nor has defendant demonstrated or explained what legitimate safety concerns would be faced by persons conducting the study. Nonetheless, the court will permit defendant to conduct safety-training, limited to one hour, as a prerequisite for access to the facility. In addition, as discussed below, defendant’s safety manager may accompany Dr. Mericle while he is in the facility.

Finally, as to defendant’s complaint that its employees should not be required to carry the small reader cards, the court agrees that no employee should be compelled to carry the card against his or her will. However, as noted by plaintiffs, the vast majority of hourly production workers whose walk time the RFID study would measure are opt-in plaintiffs in this case. The court finds it likely that these employees will voluntarily carry the card. The court permits plaintiffs’ counsel and expert to supply cards to employees who voluntarily consent to carry them during the study.”

Click McDonald v. Kellogg Co. to read the entire order.

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D.Minn.: “Insurance Investigators” Were Non-Exempt, Because Their Duties Lacked Independent Judgment and Discretion

Ahle v. Veracity Research Co.

Among other motions, the case was before the Court on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.  Of note here, the parties asked the Court to determine whether Plaintiffs, who were “Insurance Investigators” qualified as Administrative Exempt or not.  Holding that their duties did not require the independent judgment and discretion necessary, the Court held that Plaintiffs were non-exempt under the FLSA.

Examining the Plaintiffs’ duties the Court explained:

“Veracity is a full-service investigative firm specializing in insurance defense investigations. Answer to Compl., Defenses and Am. Counterclaim (Counterclaim) [Docket No. 29] ¶ 5. Named Plaintiffs Ahle, Jordan, and Wiseman formerly worked as investigators for Veracity. Id. ¶¶ 6-8; Collective Action Compl. [Docket No. 1] ¶¶ 4-6. Approximately 150 other individuals have opted into this litigation. The plaintiff class members are current or former investigators for Veracity.

Veracity is hired by insurance companies, third-party administrators, and law firms to investigate suspect claims. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010 [Docket No. 186], Ex. 1 (Foster Dep.) 45:22-46:8. Veracity categorizes its investigators by title and level; the titles and levels that are at issue in this litigation are surveillance investigators (levels 1-3), claims investigators (level 4), and senior field investigators (level 5). Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 2 (Doyle Dep.) 60:10-19. Surveillance investigators primarily work in the field conducting surveillance, undercover investigations, and background checks. Id. 50:15-21; Foster Aff ., July 7, 2009 [Docket No. 59], ¶ 7. Claims investigators generally perform the same duties as surveillance investigators, but they also interview witnesses, obtain statements, take photographs, and, occasionally, perform sales functions. Foster Aff., July 7, 2009, ¶¶ 8, 10-11. Senior field investigators supervise and manage surveillance and claims investigators in the field, train new investigators, and perform occasional promotion and sales duties. Id. ¶ 13. Thus, all of the titles and levels of investigators at issue have in common some surveillance duties, although the parties dispute whether the primary duty of investigators in each of these titles and levels is surveillance.

After receiving an assignment from Veracity but before driving to the surveillance site, the investigator typically completes several tasks including reviewing the assignment sheet, performing a background check on the subject, matching the name of the subject to an address, mapping out directions to the surveillance site, and ensuring that the investigator’s camera, laptop computer, and cellular phones are fully charged. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 8 at VRC001063-64. According to Plaintiffs, investigators also are required to perform maintenance including cleaning the windows and filling the fuel tank on their vehicles before leaving for a surveillance site. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Exs. 13, 14, ¶ 6. At the surveillance site, investigators monitor and video record the subject and take notes of their observations. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 13, ¶ 5. Claims investigators may also interview witnesses, obtain statements, and collect documents. Foster Dep. 149:7-23.

Investigators record their activities in a daily investigative report (“DIR”). Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Exs. 13, 14 ¶ 7. An investigator’s DIR discloses when the investigator left home for the surveillance site, the drive time, the arrival time, observation notes, the departure time from the site, and the arrival time back at the investigator’s home. Id. Once completed, the investigator sends the DIR online to Veracity. Id. Investigators send any video recording taken during the day to their managers by depositing the tapes at a FedEx drop-off location. Id .

The dispute in this action centers on whether Plaintiffs, given their daily duties, were properly classified as FLSA “exempt” employees who are not required to be paid overtime for work in excess of forty hours per week. Based on Veracity’s founders’ view of the “industry standard,” Veracity classified its investigators as exempt when it began business in 1995. Doyle Dep. 15:10-17:6. Plaintiffs initiated this action on January 8, 2009, claiming that they were improperly classified as exempt and, therefore, were wrongfully denied compensation for overtime hours allegedly worked while employed by Veracity as investigators.”

After concluding that it lacked information sufficient to determine whether the second prong of the Administrative Exemption was met or not here, the Court held that Defendant could not, as a matter of law, establish that Plaintiffs’ activities required the independent judgment and discretion required for application of the exemption:

“Discretion and Independent Judgment

Although claims investigations is directly related to the management or general business operations of Veracity’s clients, such a primary duty must also involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance for claims investigators to meet the final element of the definition of administrative employees. DOL regulations explain that “the exercise of discretion and independent judgment involves the comparison and the evaluation of possible courses of conduct, and acting or making a decision after the various possibilities have been considered.” 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(a).

Factors to be considered when determining whether an employee exercises discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance include, but are not limited to: whether the employee has authority to formulate, affect, interpret, or implement management policies or operating practices; whether the employee carries out major assignments in conducting the operations of the business; whether the employee performs work that affects business operations to a substantial degree, even if the employee’s assignments are related to operation of a particular segment of the business; whether the employee has authority to commit the employer in matters that have significant financial impact; whether the employee has authority to waive or deviate from established policies and procedures without prior approval; whether the employee has authority to negotiate and bind the company on significant matters; whether the employee provides consultation or expert advice to management; whether the employee is involved in planning long- or short-term business objectives; whether the employee investigates and resolves matters of significance on behalf of management; and whether the employee represents the company in handling complaints, arbitrating disputes or resolving grievances. Id. § 541.202(b). “The exercise of discretion and independent judgment implies that the employee has the authority to make an independent choice, free from immediate direction or supervision,” but “employees can exercise discretion and independent judgment even if their decisions or recommendations are reviewed at a higher level,” and discretion and independent judgment can “consist of recommendations for action rather than the actual taking of action.” Id. § 541.202(c). However, “[t]he exercise of discretion and independent judgment must be more than the use of skill in applying well-established techniques, procedures or specific standards described in manuals or other sources.” Id . § 541.202(e).

In support of their argument that the duties of the claims investigators do not involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment regarding matters of significance, Plaintiffs again cite Gusdonovich, as well as Fenton v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, 663 F.Supp.2d 718 (D.Minn.2009), a case from this district. In Gusdonovich, the court concluded that the insurance “investigators were merely applying their knowledge and skill in determining what procedure to follow, which … is not the exercise of discretion and independent judgment contemplated by the [DOL] regulation[s].” 705 F.Supp. at 265.

The plaintiffs in Fenton were insurance investigators employed by a company to investigate potentially fraudulent insurance claims. 663 F.Supp.2d at 721. The court held that the job duties of such “special investigators” did not involve a sufficient exercise of discretion and independent judgment to qualify for the administrative exemption. Id. at 726. Instead, the special investigators’ job duties were “sufficiently aligned with the employment circumstances” of (1) the insurance investigators who were the plaintiffs in Gusdonovich, (2) the employees performing background investigations discussed in the 2005 DOL Opinion Letter, and (3) the police investigations addressed in DOL regulation 29 C.F.R. § 541.3(b)(1). Id. at 726. In reaching that conclusion, the court noted that the employer’s written guidelines explained in great detail how the investigators should approach issues that often arise in conducting and documenting an investigation, there was “nothing in the residual discretion available to investigators that [was] sufficient to justify exemption,” and there was no dispute that the investigator’s subjective opinions and conclusions were excluded from their written reports. Id. at 726-27. In addition, written guidelines instructed the investigators to include, with equal detail and emphasis, all inculpating and exculpating information in their reports, and investigators had no authority to determine whether a claim should be denied or whether the insurance company should seek to negotiate a settlement. Id. at 727.

Like in Gusdonovich and Fenton, Plaintiffs’ duties as claims investigators for Veracity do not involve a sufficient degree of discretion and independent judgement with respect to matters of significance. Claims investigators do not have the discretion to decide when to conduct an investigation, where to conduct it, or the length of time to spend on it. Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 13, ¶ 6. In addition, Veracity does not allow claims investigators to (1) make any recommendations or give their opinions as to whether fraud occurred when submitting their DIRs or (2) recommend or participate in the decision whether to deny or pay a claim or whether to conduct further investigation. Id. ¶ 8. Furthermore, Plaintiffs’ declarations state that they received guidelines and manuals describing how claims investigations are conducted and that they are “expected to follow such guidelines and manuals when conducting day-to-day investigations.” Id. ¶ 11. For example, a Veracity document entitled “Introduction to Claims Investigation and Responsibilities” informs claims investigators as follows:

Your job will be to obtain facts that relate to a specific claim. This will include, but is not limited to, taking recorded statements from the person making the claim …, witnesses to the specific incident, [and] persons that may have direct knowledge about the incident…. Your responsibility is to get the facts of the case by means of questioning or research. At times you will be called upon to obtain needed documentation to include medical records, receipts …, employment information, and police reports. You will have to develop comprehensive investigative and communication skills, and you must be able to decide which leads must be followed, and which ones should be reported but need no further effort.

One of the most challenging areas of [your job as a claims investigator] will be your ability to transfer the information that you gather into a coherent and informative report…. [I]n most cases you will not have the opportunity to speak directly with the client and therefore your report must be accurate, concise, easily understood, and complete.  Morgan Decl., May 13, 2010, Ex. 9 at VRC001154.

The manual includes outlines to follow when taking a recorded statement in all investigations and in particular types of investigations (e.g., employment injuries, motor vehicle accidents resulting in deaths, products liability, property loss or theft, vehicle or property damage). Id. at VRC001167, 1176, 1216, 1230, 1233, 1240. Although claims investigators are not required to follow the outlines verbatim, the outlines do command, in several instances, that some specific information is not optional, employing language such as, “must be on every recorded statement,” “must be covered,” or “must be asked.” Id. at VRC001167, 1176, 1216, 1230, 1233, 1240. Furthermore, the outlines instruct investigators to “obtain all of the facts,” and remind the claims investigators that it is Veractiy’s responsibility to “obtain the information and then let the [client] and their legal department make the determination.” Id. at VRC001230.

The record establishes that (1) Veracity’s written guidelines explain in great detail how claims investigators should conduct an investigation, (2) the claims investigators are required to obtain all the facts regardless of their impact, and (3) the claims investigators do not include their own opinions, conclusions, or recommendations regarding the decision whether to pay or deny the claim. Because the claims investigators do not provide opinions and conclusions about their investigative observations, they are significantly different than the insurance investigators in Foster v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. See 695 F.Supp.2d 748, 761 (S .D.Ohio 2010) (concluding that genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether the plaintiffs, insurance investigators, exercised discretion and independent judgment because “[m]ost significantly, there is a factual dispute as to whether Special Investigators’ primary duty encompasses providing their opinions and conclusions regarding their investigative findings”). Admittedly, claims investigators do make decisions regarding the precise manner in which they conduct an investigation-creating action plans, deciding who to interview, what documents to review, what leads to follow, and whether to recommend hiring an expert-however, such decisions are more appropriately viewed as choices among “established techniques, procedures or specific standards described in manuals or other sources,” which do not amount to the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. 29 C.F.R. § 541.202(a), (e); see also 2005 Opinion Letter at 4-5 (advising that “prioritizing the pursuit of particular leads, assessing whether the leads … have provided information that requires further investigation, determining which potential witnesses to see and which documents to review, and making similar decisions that promote effective and efficient use of … work time in performing assigned investigative activities” do not involve the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance); Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1997) (stating that the DOL’s interpretation of its own regulations are “controlling unless plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation”).

The cases cited by Veracity are unavailing. In Stout v. Smolar, the court viewed evidence that a private investigator had the authority to make decisions as to how to “investigate the scene of an accident, including determining what materials to be preserved and whether expert witnesses would be required” as showing that the investigator exercised discretion and independent judgment. No. 1:05-CV-1202, 2007 WL 2765519, at *6 n. 2 (N.D.Ga. Sept. 18, 2007). The court also commented that treating insurance investigators as not qualifying for the administrative exemption “would appear contrary to the insurance claims adjuster example of administrative exemption cited by the [DOL].” Id. This Court finds more persuasive the reasoning in DOL regulations, cases such as Fenton, and the 2005 Opinion Letter, which suggest that having discretion over the types of matters discussed in Stout does not equate to having discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. See Foster, 695 F.Supp.2d at 761 (recognizing, in light of the 2005 Opinion Letter, that deciding who to interview, what documents to review, what leads to pursue, and “similar tactical matters” were “fact-finding logistics [that] do not necessarily rise to the level of discretion and independent judgment contemplated by DOL regulations, for they do not amount to matters of significance”).

Equating Veracity’s claims investigators to claims adjusters is not a fair comparison or particularly helpful. The core function of a claims adjuster is to decide whether and to what extent an insurance claim should be paid, a task that requires considerable exercise of discretion on a matter of significance. Inclusion of the term “adjuster” in the title of the job strongly suggests that conclusion. All employees exercise some discretion in deciding how to perform their jobs, and the way in which they exercise that discretion likely will affect matters of significance. In the case of claims investigators, how they exercise their discretion in conducting an investigation will impact or affect how a claims adjuster working for one of Veracity’s clients decides the significant matter of the value of the claim. But an exercise of discretion that impacts or affects a matter of significance is not exercising discretion with respect to a matter of significance. If the rule were otherwise, all employees would arguably meet the third element of the definition of administrative employees. Because the analogy to claims adjusters is not persuasive, Veracity’s reliance on cases such as Roe-Midgett, 512 F.3d at 874, where the Seventh Circuit held that claims adjusters routinely used their discretion and independent judgment to make choices that impact damage estimates, settlement, and other matters of significance, does not alter the result here.

The Court concludes that Veracity has failed to demonstrate a triable issue as to whether the duties of claims investigators include the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance. Because claims investigators do not meet the third element of the definition in 29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a), they do not qualify for the administrative exemption.”

Not discussed here, the Court also held that the Plaintiffs lacked the requisite duties to be deemed outside sales exempt.  Further, the Court held that certain time claimed as compensable by the Plaintiffs was not and that the appropriate method for determining Plaintiffs damages–as “salaried misclassified” employees was the Fluctuating Workweek (“FWW”), adopting the reasoning in the recent Seventh Circuit decision discussed here.  Lastly, the Court denied Defendant’s motion for decertification of the collective action.

To read the entire decision, click here.

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6th Cir.: Although Changing Into PPE At Food-Processing Plant Is “Changing Clothes” and Excluded Under 203(o), It Is A Principle Activity And Begins The “Continuous Workday”

Franklin v. Kellogg Co.

This case was before the Sixth Circuit on appeal from the order at the court below granting Defendant summary judgment in all respects with regard to Plaintiff’s claims that she was entitled to be paid for changing into required personal protection equipment (“PPE”) each day, before she could perform their work on Defendant’s plant floor.  The Court affirmed the lower court’s holding that time spent changing into the PPE could be properly excluded by continued practice under 203(0), but remanded the case to determine whether there was significant time the that elapsed after the donning of the PPE, before Plaintiff was put “on the clock,” because such time was compensible under the “continuous workday” if it was not deemed de minimus.

The Court reasoned:

“B. Post-Donning/Pre-Doffing Walking Time

Franklin argues that if we conclude that her time spent donning and doffing the uniform and equipment is excluded under § 203(o), she is still entitled to compensation for her time spent walking between the locker room and the time clock, because those activities are “principal activities.” Under the “continuous workday” rule, “the ‘workday’ is generally defined as ‘the period between the commencement and completion on the same workday of an employee’s principal activity or activities.’ “ IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U.S. 21, 29 (2004) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 790.6(b)). In addition, “during a continuous workday, any walking time that occurs after the beginning of the employee’s first principal activity and before the end of the employee’s last principal activity is … covered by the FLSA,” and must be compensated. Id. at 37. Principal activities are those that are an integral and indispensable part of the activities which the employee is employed to perform. See Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U.S. 247, 256 (1956).

1. Does Exclusion Under § 203(o) Affect Whether an Activity is a Principal Activity?

One court recently explained that “[t]he courts have taken divergent views” on the issue of whether activities deemed excluded under § 203(o) may still constitute “principal activities.” In re Tyson Foods, Inc., 694 F.Supp.2d 1358, 1370 (M.D.Ga.2010). Some courts have concluded that time that is excluded under § 203(o) may still be a “principal activity,” because § 203(o) only addresses the compensability of the time, not whether it is integral and indispensable. See, e.g., id. at 1371 (“After considering both of these positions, the Court concludes that § 203(o) only relates to the compensability of time spent donning, doffing, and washing of the person and that it does not mean that § 203(o) tasks cannot be considered principal activities that start the continuous workday.”); Andrako v. U.S. Steel Corp., 632 F.Supp.2d 398, 413 (W.D.Pa.2009) (“Section 203(o) relates to the compensability of time spent donning, doffing, and washing in the collective-bargaining process. It does not render such time any more or less integral or indispensable to an employee’s job.”); Gatewood v. Koch Foods of Miss., LLC, 569 F.Supp.2d 687, 702 (S.D.Miss.2008) (“Although the act of ‘changing clothes’ itself is barred based on § 203(o) …, the activities that occur after changing into sanitary gear and before changing out of sanitary gear are not impacted by the defense.”); Figas, 2008 WL 4170043, at *20 (“[T]he character of donning and doffing activities is not dependent upon whether such activities are excluded pursuant to a collective-bargaining agreement.”). In contrast, some courts-including the district court presiding over the instant case-have concluded that “once an activity has been deemed a section 3(o) activity, it cannot be considered a principal activity.” Sisk v. Sara Lee Corp., 590 F.Supp.2d 1001, 1011 (W.D.Tenn.2008); see also Salazar v. Butterball, LLC, No. 08-cv-02071-MSK-CBS, 2009 WL 6048979, at * 14 (D.Colo. Dec. 3, 2009) (following Sisk); Hudson v. Butterball, LLC, No. 08-5071-CV-SW-RED, 2009 WL 3486780, at *4 (W.D.Mo. Oct. 14, 2009) (“Because time [plaintiff] spent sanitizing, donning, and doffing is excluded from hours worked under § 203(o), the walking time did not follow or precede a principal work activity, and therefore is not compensable.”). Although the latter position was consistent with the 2007 Opinion Letter, the June 16 Interpretation rejected that position and concluded that “clothes changing that is covered by § 203(o) may be a principal activity.” Compare 2007 Opinion Letter with June 16 Interp.

We agree with the courts that have taken the position that compensability under § 203(o) is unrelated to whether an activity is a “principal activity.” Accordingly, we must consider whether time spent donning and doffing the standard equipment and uniform is integral and indispensable to Franklin’s job.

2. Integral and Indispensable

Kellogg asserts that even though it requires its employees to wear these items, changing into them is not “integral and indispensable” under the FLSA. In Steiner, the Supreme Court concluded that changing into protective gear before beginning the shift and showering and changing out of the protective gear at the end of the shift was an integral and indispensable part of employment at a battery-manufacturing plant. 350 U.S. at 256 (“[I]t would be difficult to conjure up an instance where changing clothes and showering are more clearly an integral and indispensable part of the principal activity of the employment than in the case of these employees.”) The Court did not address whether “changing clothes and showering under normal conditions” was integral and indispensable to the principal activity of work, and it did not explicitly hold that changing clothes and showering can only be integral and indispensable when the working environment was toxic or lethal. See id. at 249, 256. Nonetheless, at least one court applying Steiner has made that distinction. See Gorman v. Consol. Edison Corp., 488 F.3d 586, 594 (2d Cir.2007). In Gorman, the Second Circuit held that donning and doffing of protective gear-helmet, safety glasses, and steel-toed boots-was not integral and indispensable to employment at a nuclear power plant. Id. It distinguished Steiner because “the environment of the battery plant could not sustain life-given the toxic substances in liquid, solid, powder, and vapor form (and in the dust of the air) that ‘permeate[d] the entire [battery] plant and everything and everyone in it.’ “ Id. at 593 (quoting Steiner, 350 U.S. at 249) (alterations in original). It interpreted Steiner narrowly for the proposition “that when work is done in a lethal atmosphere, the measures that allow entry and immersion into the destructive element may be integral to all work done there.” Id. However, under Gorman, when such a lethal environment is not present and the gear is not literally required for entry into the plant, donning and doffing gear is not integral.

The Second Circuit’s position appears to be unique. The Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have both interpreted Steiner less narrowly. For example, relying on 29 C.F.R. § 790.8(c), the Ninth Circuit explained that “ ‘where the changing of clothes on the employer’s premises is required by law, by rules of the employer, or by the nature of the work,’ the activity may be considered integral and indispensable to the principal activities.” Ballaris v. Wacker Siltronic Corp., 370 F.3d 901, 910 (9th Cir.2004), quoting Mitchell v. King Packing Co., 350 U.S. 260, 262-63 (1956) (holding that changing into and out of plant uniforms was integral and indispensable to the principal activities because the employer required its employees to wear the uniforms and doing so was performed for the benefit of the company); see also Alvarez, 339 F.3d at 902-03 (“To be ‘integral and indispensable,’ an activity must be necessary to the principal work performed and done for the benefit of the employer.”). Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit held that the following three factors are relevant to the issue of whether an activity is integral and indispensable: “(1) whether the activity is required by the employer; (2) whether the activity is necessary for the employee to perform his or her duties; and whether the activity primarily benefits the employer.” Bonilla v. Baker Concrete Constr., Inc., 487 F.3d 1340, 1344 (11th Cir.2007) (concluding that time spent going through security screening made mandatory by the FAA was not integral and indispensable because it was not for the benefit of the employer). We follow the reasoning of Ballaris and Bonilla.

Under the broader interpretation of integral and indispensable, donning and doffing the uniform and equipment is both integral and indispensable. First, the activity is required by Kellogg. Second, wearing the uniform and equipment primarily benefits Kellogg. Certainly, the employees receive protection from physical harm by wearing the equipment. However, the benefit is primarily for Kellogg, because the uniform and equipment ensures sanitary working conditions and untainted products. Because Franklin would be able to physically complete her job without donning the uniform and equipment, unlike the plaintiffs in Steiner, it is difficult to say that donning the items are necessary for her to perform her duties. Nonetheless, considering these three factors, we conclude that donning and doffing the uniform and standard equipment at issue here is a principal activity. See IBP, Inc., 546 U.S. at 37 (“[A]ny activity that is ‘integral and indispensable’ to a ‘principal activity’ is itself a ‘principal activity.’ ”) Accordingly, under the continuous workday rule, Franklin may be entitled to payment for her post-donning and pre-donning walking time. Because there are questions of fact as to the length of time it took her to walk from the changing area to the time clock and whether that time was de minimis, however, we reverse and remand to the district court for further consideration of this issue.”

To read the entire opinion, click here.

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E.D.Tenn.: K-9 Officer’s Time Spent Training/Caring For Narcotics Detection Dog Compensable

Lewallen v. Scott County, Tennessee

This case was before the Court, following a bench trial.  The issue before the Court revolved around whether time spent by a K-9 officer training and caring for a narcotics detection dog assigned to him was compensable under the FLSA.  For the reasons discussed below, the Court held that such time was indeed compensable and awarded Plaintiff damages in accordance with his off-duty time spent performing these duties.

The Court recited the following facts as relevant to the inquiry regarding the compensability of the hours at issue:

Kristofer Lewallen began his duties as a K-9 officer on July 1, 2006, when Sheriff Jim Carson ordered him to pick up a black Labrador dog named “J.J.” Sheriff Carson told Lewallen to begin working with the dog and eventually J.J. would be trained as a narcotics detection dog. J.J. lived with Lewallen and Lewallen fed, trained and cared for him. These activities with J.J. were “off the clock,” that is, they were performed in addition to Lewallen’s regularly scheduled work.

In September 2006, Sheriff Anthony Lay took office, and Lewallen’s immediate supervisor became Chief Deputy Bobby Ellis. Lewallen continued to feed, train and care for J.J. under Sheriff Lay. In October 2006, J.J. received training in narcotics detection and was certified as a narcotics detection dog. In addition to the previous care, Lewallen now needed to perform maintenance training with J.J. to keep him certified. Lewallen was not compensated for any of the time he cared for and trained J.J., although Scott County paid for food, veterinary care, and other necessary items for the dog.

Lewallen was trained as a K-9 officer in January 2007. At that training Lewallen learned for the first time that K-9 officers should receive extra pay for the time they spent with their dogs off the clock. Lewallen researched the requirements and submitted the information to Chief Ellis, who gave it to the Scott County finance director. The information included a statement that the Department of Labor requires that the time spent with police dogs is compensable time and, if the hours spent with the dog exceed the 40-hour work week, time and one-half compensation must be paid.

In March 2007, Sheriff Lay called a mandatory meeting of the Sheriff’s Department employees where he announced the suspension of the County K-9 program. Nevertheless, Lewallen still had to care for and train J.J. since he still had possession of the dog. During this time, Lewallen kept training logs for J.J., which were given to Chief Ellis. The training logs showed the amount of time Lewallen was training J.J. during his off-duty hours-45 minutes to six hours a day on his days off and after his shifts.

Sheriff Lay allowed the K-9 officers to begin working with their dogs again in September 2007, and the Scott County K-9 officers were scheduled and sent for training and certification at that time. Lewallen asked Chief Ellis about compensation for his off-duty care and training of his dog, and Ellis said that the Sheriff knew about his request for overtime compensation. Other Scott County K-9 officers also asked Chief Ellis about getting paid for their overtime. Lewallen prepared a proposed schedule that gave each K-9 officer two hours of paid time per scheduled work day as compensation for the care and training of the dogs, and he submitted the plan to Chief Ellis. He never received any response to his proposal…

Lewallen claims one and one-half hours per day of overtime related to his responsibilities of caring for and training his narcotics dog for 874 days. Specifically, on a daily basis Lewallen provided food and water for his dog; brushed the dog and its teeth; administered arthritis medication; and cleaned the kennel area. In addition, the training log examples submitted as evidence show that he often trained his dog for several hours after his shift or on his days off. While Lewallen admits that one and one half hours is an estimate, Scott County has not produced any proof that this estimate is too high or unreasonable.”

Holding that such time was compensable the Court said:

“The first issue to be decided is whether the off-duty time Lewallen spent caring for and training his narcotics dog qualifies as work. The Supreme Court has defined “work” as “physical or mental exertion (whether burdensome or not) controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business.” Tenn. Coal, Iron & R.R. Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123, 321 U.S. 590, 598 (1944). This definition includes work performed off-duty. Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U.S. 247, 256 (1956) (holding that employees must be compensated for activities performed for the employer before or after a regular work shift if the activities are an “integral and indispensable” part of the employees’ principal activities). The definition even applies when the work is not requested but is “suffered or permitted.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.11. “If the employer knows or has reason to believe that the work is being performed, he must count the time as hours worked.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.12.

To determine whether the care and training of the narcotics dog was compensable work, there are three questions to be considered: (1) Did Scott County require or suffer Lewallen to care and train J.J.? (2) Was the care and training of the dog necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the County? and (3) Was the off-duty work an integral and indispensable part of Lewallen’s principal activities? Brock v. City of Cincinnati, 236 F.3d 793, 801 (6th Cir.2001). The court concludes that the answer to all three questions is “yes.”

Sheriff Carson ordered Lewallen to pick up a black Labrador dog named J.J. and to begin working with the dog in the hope that J.J. eventually would be trained as a narcotics detection dog. J.J. was to live with and to be taken care of by Lewallen, but he was not Lewallen’s dog as evidenced by the fact that the Sheriff had the dog picked up from Lewallen when he was demoted. Sheriff Carson wanted Scott County to have a certified narcotics dog and K-9 officer, as did Sheriff Lay, and the sheriffs were certainly aware that keeping a dog at home would require taking care of it beyond Lewallen’s scheduled shifts. Even if Sheriffs Carson and Lay were not aware of the exact amount of time needed to care for and train a narcotics dog, they required Lewallen to perform these activities with J.J. Sheriff Lay was informed that Lewallen thought he should get paid for taking care of and training J.J. when he was off duty, but he did nothing to curtail Lewallen’s time spent with the dog, other than suspending the K-9 program for a few months. Sheriff Lay scheduled the training of J.J. and Lewallen in narcotics detection, and Scott County paid for J.J.’s food, veterinary bills, and other necessities. As the Sixth Circuit held in Brock, Scott County “required the officers to take the canines home with them, look after them at all times, keep them well-nourished and in good health, and have them ready for recall to active service at a moment’s notice.” Brock, 236 F.3d at 804

The court finds that the care and training of J.J. was for the benefit of Scott County, and an integral and indispensable part of the County’s K’9 program. After he was certified, Lewallen’s principal activity for the Sheriff’s Department was working as a K-9 officer. Thus, the time Lewallen spent caring for and training his canine is compensable work.”

Not discussed here, the Court rejected Defendant’s assertions that such time was properly compensated by $1,000.00 per year and/or “comp time.”

To read the entire Memorandum Opinion, click here.

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