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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