Tag Archives: Department of Labor

M.D.Ga.: DOL Properly Invoked the “Government Informer Privilege” Where Defendants Sought Identities of Witnesses Who Cooperated in Pre-Suit DOL Investigation

Solis v. New China Buffet No. 8, Inc.

This case was before the court on defendants’ motion to compel the DOL (“DOL” or “Plaintiff”) to provide complete answers to discovery requests.  Specifically, Defendants sought information relating to the DOL’s investigation (prior to the filing of the lawsuit) of this Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) case, particularly the identities of any employees that gave statements to the DOL, the contents of those statements, and the contents of the investigative file.  The DOL refused to provide that information based on the informer’s privilege.  The court upheld the DOL’s refusal based on the investigation privilege.  However, the court ordered the DOL to provide the full contact information for all witnesses disclosed by the DOL in their Rule 26 disclosures.

The court boiled Defendants’ arguments down as follows:

“Defendants mount two arguments against Plaintiff’s refusal to disclose the requested information and documents. First, they argue that Plaintiff has not properly invoked the informer’s privilege. Second, they argue that the informer’s privilege should not protect the information they are seeking.”

Rejecting the Defendants’ first contention, that the DOL had not properly invoked the privilege, the court explained:

“Plaintiff properly invoked the informer’s privilege in this case. In response to Defendants’ Motion to Compel, Plaintiff produced a declaration from Acting Wage and Hour Administrator Nancy J. Leppink .  In her declaration, Administrator Leppink stated that she had personally reviewed the relevant parts of the investigation file, including information withheld or redacted. [Doc. 34–1 ¶ 8]. She went on to the state that the Secretary of Labor objected to the production of the requested documents and identifying information because it was protected from disclosure pursuant to the informant’s privilege. [Id. ¶ 11]. She then “invoke[d] the informant’s privilege to protect from disclosure the identities, and any statements and other documents, or portions thereof, which could reveal the identifies, of persons who have provided information to the U.S. Department of Labor in the instant case.” [Id. ¶ 12].”

Turning to the applicability of the informer privilege to the case at bar, the court held that the discovery sought was properly the subject of the privilege.  Describing the nature and purpose of the informer privilege, the court explained:

“What courts have termed the “informer’s privilege is in reality the Government’s privilege to withhold from disclosure the identity of persons who furnish information of violations of law to officers charged with enforcement of that law.” Rovario v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 59, 77 S.Ct. 623, 627, 1 L.Ed.2d 639 (1957). The privilege protects “employees with legitimate complaints, exercising their constitutional and statutory right to present their grievances to the government.” Brennan v. Engineered Prods. Inc., 506 F.2d 299, 302 (8th Cir.1974). “The purpose of the privilege is the furtherance and protection of the public interest in effective law enforcement.”   Rovario, 353 U.S. at 59, 77 S.Ct. at 627. The government may invoke the privilege “to conceal the names of employees who precipitated the suit by filing complaints with the Department of Labor.” Does I thru XXIII v. Advanced Textile Corp. ., 214 F.3d 1058, 1072 (9th Cir.2000). The privilege “applies whether the [Department of Labor] solicited statements from an employee or the employee made a complaint to the [ Department of Labor].” Martin v. New York City Transit Auth., 148 F.R.D. 56, 63 (E.D.N.Y.1993) (citing Dole v. Local 1942, International Bhd. of Elec. Workers, AFL–CIO, 870 F.2d 368, 370–71 (7th Cir.1989)). The privilege applies to both current and former employees of a company whose workers have communicated with the Department of Labor. Hodgson v. Charles Martin Inspectors of Petroleum, Inc., 459 F.2d 303, 305–06 (5th Cir.1972).

The informer’s privilege is not absolute. Its scope is “limited by the underlying purpose of the privilege as balanced against the fundamental requirements of fairness and disclosure in the litigation process.” Charles Martin, 459 F.2d at 305. If the “disclosure of the contents of a communication will not tend to reveal the identity of an informer, the contents are not privileged.” Rovario, 353 U.S. at 60, 77 S.Ct. at 627. Generally, in questions involving the privilege, “the interests to be balanced … are the public’s interest in efficient enforcement of the Act, the informer’s right to be protected against possible retaliation, and the defendant’s need to prepare for trial.” Charles Martin, 459 F.2d at 305. The defendant’s need for certain information is generally less weighty during the discovery phase, as opposed to the pre-trial stage of the proceedings. See id. at 307, Brennan, 506 F.2d at 303.”

The court then held that the privilege was indeed applicable here.  In so doing, the court rejected Defendants’ argument that it would be inefficient to depose all 48 witnesses disclosed by the DOL, and questioned Defendants’ base assertion that they needed to know who participated investigation:

“The Defendants’ need to depose all forty-eight former employees listed in Appendix A, or even only those who provided statements, in order to adequately prepare a defense appears far from pressing. The relevance of the identity of informers in a FLSA case is often questionable. See Chao v. Westside Drywall, Inc., 254 F.R.D. 651, 660 (D.Or.2009) (noting that “the names of informers are [often] irrelevant to whether the employer properly paid its employees and otherwise complied with the Act’s requirements”). Defendants have failed to make any showing that this case is outside the normal situation wherein a defendant has access to information and its own witnesses regarding its wage and record keeping practices, and the identity of informers is largely irrelevant.  In any event, courts have generally found that the cost and inconvenience that Defendants seek to avoid does not tip the balance in favor of disclosure. See Charles Martin, 459 F.2d at 307 (“[T]hat depositions would be expensive show that the statements would facilitate defendant’s investigation but such facilitation is not a requirement for fundamental fairness to the defendant.”); Brennan, 506 F.2d at 303 & n. 3 (noting that at the discovery stage defendant was entitled to know “the charges, dates, names of underpaid employees, and names of those persons known to the plaintiff who had information concerning the issues” and that defendant had the ability to depose nineteen workers listed as possessing such information).”

For these reasons, the court upheld the application of the informer privilege.  However, because the DOL had disclosed the names of the witnesses at issue, among the 48 witnesses on their Rule 26 disclosures, the court held Defendants were entitled to their contact information, notwithstanding the fact that the DOL did not have to identify whom of the 48 witnesses had given statements in the pre-suit investigation.

While this case is of limited usefulness to private practitioners, it does give an interesting analysis into a privilege that seems to be litigated more and more, with the DOL getting more active in litigating cases.

Click Solis v. New China Buffet No. 8, Inc. to read the entire Order on Defendants’ Motion to Compel.

 

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Filed under Department of Labor, Discovery

DOL Debars Seattle-Based Federal Contractor for Violating Minimum Wage, Overtime and Record-Keeping Laws

The U.S. Department of Labor has debarred HWA Inc., President John Wood and Vice President Barbara Wood from future government contracts for three years, due to significant and repeated violations of the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act. Seattle-based HWA provided security services as a contractor to various federal facilities, government offices and public works projects in the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Missouri and New York.

“The Labor Department will not allow federal contractors to misuse public funds and exploit hardworking laborers by denying their rightful wages,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Debarring violators such as HWA from future contracts ensures a level playing field, so that honest companies are not placed at a competitive disadvantage for playing by the rules, and paying their workers full and fair prevailing wages.”

According to a DOL press release:

“Most recently, in 2009, the company defaulted on seven federal contracts and failed to meet its payroll obligations, resulting in nearly $1 million in unpaid wages for 206 employees. The division ordered an emergency withholding of funds on several of the company’s federal contracts and secured the full payment of these wages. All SCA contracts held by the HWA were terminated shortly thereafter.”

The Service Contract Act (SCA) contract clauses, present in all Federal contracts, require contractors and subcontractors performing services under prime contracts in excess of $2,500 to pay service employees in various classes no less than the wage rates and fringe benefits found prevailing in the locality, or the rates contained in a predecessor contractor’s collective bargaining agreement, including prospective increases. The Labor Department issues SCA wage determinations for contracting agencies to incorporate into covered contracts, along with the required contract clauses. The fringe benefit requirements — usually vacation and holidays, known as “health and welfare” benefits — are separate and in addition to the hourly monetary wage requirement under the SCA. In addition, employers with prime contracts in excess of $100,000 under the CWHSSA must pay workers at least one and one-half times their regular rates of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a week.

Although violations of the primary federal wage and hour law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), may be pursued by aggrieved employees in private lawsuits, alleged violations of the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act, may only be pursued by the DOL.  Largely due to the fact that under the prior republican leadership, the employer-friendly DOL pursued very few of these cases, such violations are commonplace on Federal worksites, despite the various laws prohibiting them.  Hopefully, as the current DOL pursues these cases more frequently, workers will once again be assured of the protections of the laws that are on the books.

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Filed under Department of Labor, Wage and Hour News, Wage Theft

DOL Publishes New FLSA Rules, Rejecting Pro-Employer Changes to Fluctuating Workweek and Comp Time, Clarifying Tip Credit Rules

On April 5, the Department of Labor (DOL) published its updates to its interpretative regulations regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in the Federal Register.  to go into effect 30 days later.  The Updating Regulations, revise out of date CFR regulations. Specifically, these revisions conform the regulations to FLSA amendments passed in 1974, 1977, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2007, and Portal Act amendments passed in 1996.

As noted by several commentators, the final regulations are noteworthy for what was not included as much as for what was.  Below is a brief description of the most significant changes and those changes originally proposed, that were not adopted:

Fluctuating Workweek Under 29 C.F.R. §778.114

The proposed regulations issued by DOL in 2008 under the Bush administration (73 Fed. Reg. 43654) would have amended regulations on the “fluctuating workweek” method of calculating overtime pay for nonexempt employees who have agreed to received pay in the form of fixed weekly payments rather than in the form of an hourly wage.  The proposed regulations would have amended 29 C.F.R. §778.114 to permit payments of non-overtime bonuses and incentives (such as shift differentials) “without invalidating the guaranteed salary criterion required for the half-time overtime pay computation.”  The DOL left out this proposed change from the final rules however, saying it had “concluded that unless such payments are overtime premiums, they are incompatible with the fluctuating workweek method of computing overtime.”  Explaining the decision not to amend the FWW reg, the DOL noted that “several commenters … noted that the proposal would permit employers to reduce employees’ fixed weekly salaries and shift the bulk of the employees’ wages to bonus and premium pay” contra to the FLSA’s intent.  The DOL’s decision to decline the proposed amendment is consistent with virtually all case law on this issue, as discussed here and here.

Tipped Employees

The DOL has also decided to revise the proposed regulations’ interpretation of Congress’ 1974 amendment, section 3(m) of the FLSA, to require advance notice to tipped employees of information about the tip credit the employer is permitted to take based on its employees’ tips.  The final rule combines existing regulatory provisions to assure such employees are notified of the employer’s use of the tip credit, and how the employer calculates it.  This regulation too is consistent with case law on the subject, requiring advanced notice of the tip credit.

Compensatory Time

The final rules also do not include a proposed change that would have allowed public-sector employers to grant employees compensatory time requested “within a reasonable period” of the request, instead of on the specific dates requested. Instead, the final rule will leave the regulations unchanged, “consistent with [DOL’s] longstanding position that employees are entitled to use compensatory time on the date requested absent undue disruption to the agency.”

The new CFR regulations go into effect on May 5, 2011.

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Filed under CompTime, Department of Labor, Fluctuating Workweek, Tips

DOL Issues Proposed Rulemaking Revising Wage Calculations For H-2B Workers

According to a DOL press release just issued:

A proposed rule that seeks to improve the H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker program and better protect American workers has just been promulgated. “The proposed rule, to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, addresses the calculations used to set wage rates for H-2B workers.

The H-2B program allows the entry of foreign workers into the U.S. when qualified American workers are not available and when the employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed American workers. The H-2B program is limited by law to a program cap of 66,000 visas per year…

The previous administration promulgated H-2B regulations and did not seek comment in the rulemaking process on the data used to set wage rates. Since the 2008 final rule took effect, however, the department has grown increasingly concerned that the current calculation method does not adequately reflect the appropriate wages necessary to ensure American workers are not adversely affected by the employment of H-2B workers. On Aug. 30, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that the regulations issued by the department in 2008 had violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The court ordered the department to promulgate new rules that are in compliance with the APA concerning the calculation of the prevailing wage rate in the H-2B program no later than 120 days from the date of the order. Today’s announcement begins the process of complying with the order and with achieving the department’s goal of fully protecting the job opportunities and wages of American workers. The department anticipates a future rulemaking that will address other aspects of the H-2B program.

The proposed regulation would require employers to pay H-2B and American workers recruited in connection with an H-2B job application a wage that meets or exceeds the highest of: the prevailing wage, the federal minimum wage, the state minimum wage or the local minimum wage.

Under the proposed rule, the prevailing wage would be based on the highest of the following:

  • Wages established under an agreed-upon collective bargaining agreement.
  • A wage rate established under the Davis-Bacon Act or the Service Contract Act for that occupation in the area of intended employment.
  • The arithmetic mean wage rate established by the Occupational Employment Statistics wage survey for
    that occupation in the area of intended employment.

The proposed rule eliminates the use of private wage surveys, as well as the current four-tier wage structure that differentiates wage rates by the theoretical level of experience, education and supervision required to perform the job, a system that is not relevant to the unskilled positions generally involved in the H-2B program.

Interested persons are invited to submit comments on this proposed rule via the federal e-rulemaking portal at http://www.regulations.gov.”

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Filed under Department of Labor, H-2B Visa - Guest Workers

203(o) Does Not Extend To PPE Worn By Employees That Is Required By Law, The Employer Or Due To The Nature Of The Job; Changing Clothes May Be Principal Activity, Starting Continuous Workday, Says DOL

Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2010-2

Today, the DOL issued its second Administrative Interpretation of 2010.  The subject of this interpretation was the oft-litigated issue of the definition of “clothes” under 29 U.S.C. 203(0), which has been the subject of countless so-called “donning and doffing” cases. 

Significantly the DOL concluded that:

(1)  “Based on its statutory language and legislative history, it is the Administrator’s interpretation that the § 203(o) exemption does not extend to protective equipment worn by employees that is required by law, by the employer, or due to the nature of the job. This interpretation reaffirms the interpretations set out in the 1997, 1998 and 2001 opinion letters and is consistent with the “plain meaning” analysis of the Ninth Circuit in Alvarez. Those portions of the 2002 opinion letter that address the phrase “changing clothes” and the 2007 opinion letter in its entirety, which are inconsistent with this interpretation, should no longer be relied upon.”

and

(2) “Consistent with the weight of authority, it is the Administrator’s interpretation that clothes changing covered by § 203(o) may be a principal activity. Where that is the case, subsequent activities, including walking and waiting, are compensable. The Administrator issues this interpretation to assist employees and employers in all industries to better understand the scope of the § 203(o) exemption.”

To read the entire Administrator’s Interpretation, click here.

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Filed under Department of Labor, Donning and Doffing

Mortgage Loan Officers Do Not Typically Qualify For The Administrative Exemption, Says DOL

Administrator’s Interpretation No. 2010-1

The Wage and Hour Division, under the current Administration, has issued its first Administrative Interpretation Letter.  The introductory text of the Letter is below:

“Based on the Wage and Hour Division’s significant enforcement experience in the application of the administrative exemption, a careful analysis of the applicable statutory and regulatory provisions and a thorough review of the case law that has continued to develop on the exemption, the Administrator is issuing this interpretation to provide needed guidance on this important and frequently litigated area of the law.  Based on the following analysis it is the Administrator’s interpretation that employees who perform the typical job duties of a mortgage loan officer, as described below, do not qualify as bona fide administrative employees exempt under section 13(a)(1) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1).

Typical Job Duties of Mortgage Loan Officers

The financial services industry assigns a variety of job titles to employees who perform the typical job duties of a mortgage loan officer.  Those job titles include mortgage loan representative, mortgage loan consultant, and mortgage loan originator.  For purposes of this interpretation the job title of mortgage loan officer will be used.  However, as the regulations make clear, a job title does not determine whether an employee is exempt. The employee’s actual job duties and compensation determine whether the employee is exempt or nonexempt.  29 C.F.R. § 541.2.

Facts found during Wage and Hour Division investigations and the facts set out in the case law establish that the following are typical mortgage loan officer job duties: Mortgage loan officers receive internal leads and contact potential customers or receive contacts from customers generated by direct mail or other marketing activity.  Mortgage loan officers collect required financial information from customers they contact or who contact them, including  information about income, employment history, assets, investments, home ownership, debts, credit history, prior bankruptcies, judgments, and liens.  They also run credit reports.  Mortgage loan officers enter the collected financial information into a computer program that identifies which loan products may be offered to customers based on the financial information provided.  They then assess the loan products identified and discuss with the customers the terms and conditions of particular loans, trying to match the customers’ needs with one of the company’s loan products. Mortgage loan officers also compile customer documents for forwarding to an underwriter or loan processor, and may finalize documents for closings.  See, e.g., Yanni v. Red Brick Mortgage, 2008 WL 4619772, at *1 (S.D. Ohio 2008); Pontius v. Delta Financial Corp., 2007 WL 1496692, at *2 (W.D. Pa. 2007); Geer v. Challenge Financial Investors Corp., 2007 WL 2010957 (D. Kan. 2007), at *2; Chao v. First National Lending Corp., 516 F. Supp. 2d 895, 904 (N.D. Ohio 2006), aff’d, 249 Fed.App. 441 (6th Cir. 2007); Epps v. Oak Street Mortgage LLC, 2006 WL 1460273, at *4 (M.D. Fla. 2006); Rogers v. Savings First Mortgage, LLC, 362 F. Supp. 2d 624, 627 (D. Md. 2005); Casas v. Conseco Finance Corp., 2002 WL 507059, at *1 (D. Minn. 2002).”

To read the entire Letter click here.

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Filed under Department of Labor, Exemptions, Wage and Hour News

11th Cir.: Receipt And Signing WH-58 Form And Cashing Of The Employer’s Check Is Sufficient To Effect A Waiver Of Right To Sue Under FLSA

Blackwell v. United Drywall Supply

Plaintiffs were employed by Defendants.  In September 2007, they sued Defendants pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Plaintiffs alleged that, from 2002 forward, Defendants intentionally violated the Act by failing to pay them properly for overtime.  Plaintiffs further alleged that, in 2007, “as a result of an investigation by the United States Department of Labor involving allegations of the improper payment of overtime compensation to its laborer employees, [United Drywall] made payments to various employees for past due overtime compensation.”  Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants retaliated against Williams for his complaints to the Department of Labor regarding overtime violations.  And, Plaintiffs alleged that the payments made as part of the Department of Labor supervised settlement were “far lower than what the employees were legally due.”  They sought allegedly unpaid overtime compensation for three years before the filing of the complaint and attorney’s fees and expenses pursuant to § 216 of the Act.  The Court below granted Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment holding that Plaintiffs’ signing of the DOL WH-58 form and cashing of settlement checks was a valid waiver of their FLSA rights.  On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

Framing the issue before it, the Court explained, “Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing, among other things: (1) that Plaintiffs had waived their right to sue under the Act when they cashed checks from United Drywall pursuant to the 2007 settlement between the parties supervised by the Department of Labor, and (2) that Plaintiffs are exempt employees under the Motor Carrier Exemption in the Act (“the Exemption”) and therefore are not entitled to back pay pursuant to the Act. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that there were genuine issues of fact regarding whether they had knowingly waived their rights to sue and whether the Exemption applied.  After considering arguments and evidence from both sides, the district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court held that, because Plaintiffs had received Department of Labor form WH-58 (which contained a statement that if Plaintiffs accepted the back wages provided in conjunction with the form, they would give up their rights to bring suit under the Act) and because Plaintiffs had cashed the checks provided in conjunction with the WH-58 forms, Plaintiffs had waived their rights to sue Defendants for the payments they sought under the Act.  The court entered judgment for Defendants.  Plaintiffs appeal the judgment.”

Addressing and denying Plaintiffs’ appeal, the Court reasoned, “Plaintiffs argue that the district court erred in finding waiver because Plaintiffs did not knowingly and intentionally waive their rights to sue. They argue that the WH-58 form provided to them by the Department of Labor is ambiguous and did not put them on notice that, by cashing the checks, they would waive their rights to sue for additional back pay. Defendants argue that the district court correctly found waiver and that the judgment can be supported on the additional ground that the Exemption applies to bar Plaintiffs’ claims. In their reply brief, Plaintiffs respond that affirmance of the judgment based on the Exemption would not be proper because the Exemption is not applicable to Defendants’ business as a matter of law or, in the alternative, there are genuine issues of material fact regarding the application of the Exemption.

We affirm the judgment. We find no error in the district court’s holding “that receipt of a WH-58 form and cashing of the employer’s check is sufficient to effect a waiver of the right to sue under the FLSA.”  There is no dispute that Plaintiffs received WH-58 forms in connection with the checks written by United Drywall and given to Plaintiffs by the Department of Labor as part of the supervised settlement between United Drywall and its employees. Those forms are receipts for payment of “unpaid wages, employment benefits, or other compensation due … for the period up to and including 05/20/2007 … under … The Fair Labor Standards Act….” They contain this language:

NOTICE TO EMPLOYEE UNDER THE FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT-Your acceptance of back wages due under the Fair Labor Standards Act means that you have given up any right you may have to bring suit for back wages under Section 16(b) of that Act.     ( Id.)

The WH-58 forms then proceed to describe the types of recovery and statutes of limitations under § 16(b) of the Act. We agree with the district court that these forms unambiguously informed Plaintiffs that, if they cashed the checks provided with the forms, they would be waiving their rights to sue for back pay. And, there is no dispute that Plaintiffs cashed the checks. Therefore, the district court correctly determined that ‘both Plaintiffs have waived their right to sue.  Affirming the judgment on waiver grounds, we do not address the parties’ arguments regarding application of the Exemption.’ “

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Filed under Affirmative Defenses, Department of Labor, Settlements