Tag Archives: Minimum Wage

E.D.Wisc.: Plaintiff Who Helped Set Up Defendants’ Business Was an Employee Subject to FLSA Coverage, Not a Volunteer

Okoro v. Pyramid 4 Aegis

This case was before the Court on the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on a variety of issues. As discussed here, the plaintiff sought a finding that she was entitled to minimum wages under the FLSA as an employee, while the defendants contested that, arguing that any duties she had performed for them were volunteered. The case apparently followed the break-up of the plaintiff from the individual defendant in their romantic relationship. It was undisputed that the plaintiff performed many duties for the defendants- operators of a group home- over the approximate 2 years in question, including obtaining workers compensation insurance, attendance at residential training classes, cleaning and purchasing items for the facility, putting in business processes for the business (i.e. payroll services), marketing, hiring employees on behalf of defendants and other duties necessary for the defendants’ business to operate. While most of these facts were uncontested, the defendants maintained that this work was all volunteered, despite the fact, while the plaintiff asserted she expected to be paid as an employee.

After discussing various tests for employment under the FLSA (i.e. independent contractor vs employee), the court noted that there was no specific test for determining whether someone who performs duties for another is an employee or a volunteer under the FLSA. Thus, the court explained it was constrained only by a flexible “reasonableness” standard that takes into account the totality of the circumstances. The court explained:

In determining whether someone is an employer or a volunteer, this court has not stumbled upon any factored test similar to that of the 6–factor economic realities test used to differentiate independent contractors and employees. Rather, the court finds that the test for employment is governed by a reasonableness standard that takes into account the totality of the circumstances. The court is to review ” ‘the objective facts surrounding the services performed to determine whether the totality of the circumstances’ establish volunteer status, … or whether, instead, the facts and circumstances, objectively viewed, are rationally indicative of employee status.” Purdham, 637 F.3d at 428 (quoting Cleveland v. City of Elmendorf, 388 F.3d 522, 528 (5th Cir.2004)). In addition to the “economic reality” of the situation, other factors to consider include whether there was an expectation or contemplation of compensation, whether the employer received an immediate advantage from any work done by the individual, the relationship of the parties, and the goals of the FLSA. See Alamo Found., 471 U.S. at 300–01;
Rutherford Ford Corp. v. McComb, 331 U.S. 722, 730 (1947) (stating that the employer-employee relationship “does not depend on such isolated factors but rather upon the circumstances of the whole activity”); Lauritzen, 835 F.2d at 1534–35). It is the examination of objective indicia and the application of common sense with which this court arrives at its determination of whether the plaintiff here is an employee for purposes of the FLSA.

Applying this test to the facts at bar, the court held that the plaintiff was an employee rather than a volunteer:

According to Okoro, she never agreed to volunteer for Aegis; at all times, she expected to be compensated for her work. Specifically, Okoro expected to be paid $2,000 per month for her work, and in agreeing to defer her compensation until the facility garnered clients, she still worked with the expectation that she would be paid. (Okoro Aff. ¶¶ 4, 7–9.) Battles, while arguing that Okoro was a volunteer, also states that he intended to pay Okoro for her work if she qualified as an administrator and if the business had enough money in the future. (Battles Aff. ¶¶ 6, 25 .) The court notes Battles’s expectation not for the purpose of weighing the parties’ competing assertions (for this would surely contradict the FLSA’s remedial purpose) but to merely highlight that he too contemplated a compensation mechanism for Okoro’s work.

Expectations aside, it is not entirely correct for the plaintiff to assert that the defendants have failed to identify any personal benefit that Okoro purportedly received from her work for Aegis. In his affidavit, Battles avers that when Okoro sold him worker’s compensation insurance for Aegis, she told him “that she wanted to learn the group home business and therefore, she would learn the business by working at Pyramid 4 Aegis for no compensation.” (Battles Aff. ¶ 5.)

This court is not unmindful of any claim that Okoro may have wanted to learn and indeed did learn about the CBRF business. That may certainly have been part of her motivation in providing Battles some assistance in his effort to build the business. However, Battles does not deny that the work Okoro performed on behalf of Aegis conferred an immediate benefit to the company. Thus, the facts in this case stand in stark contrast to those in Walling. In Walling, the lower court’s finding that “the railroads receive[d] no ‘immediate advantage’ from any work done by the trainees” was unchallenged. 330 U.S. 148, 153. Indeed, “the applicant’s work [did] not expedite the company business, but … sometimes [did] actually impede and retard it.”   Id. at 150. In other words, the railroad was not receiving any immediate benefit from the training that was being given to the prospective brakemen.

Not so in the case at bar. The evidence here does not demonstrate that the work performed by Okoro on behalf of Aegis interfered in any way with the business of Aegis. To the contrary, the nature of the work that she performed, such as cleaning, picking up prescriptions, appearing in court on behalf of clients at the facility, and calling in hours for caregivers to Paychex, was undeniably of substantial assistance to Aegis. Even more to the point, such work was not akin to the “course of practical training,” which the prospective yard brakemen in Walling received. Id. at 150. One hardly needs to be trained in how to clean a facility, how to pick up prescriptions, and how to call in hours for caregivers.

Additionally, the economic reality of the situation was that Okoro worked for Aegis for a substantial length of time. The length of the “training course” that the prospective brakemen received in Walling was seven or eight days. Id. at 149. By contrast, Okoro worked for Aegis over the course of almost one year.

To be sure, Okoro and Battles had a “personal relationship” over the course of the relevant time period. (Okoro Aff. ¶ 6.) While it may be that at least some of the time Okoro spent at Aegis was to socialize with Battles, that particular matter may speak to the amount of damages to which she is entitled; after all, socialization may not be the equivalent of work. For purposes of Okoro’s motion, it is sufficient to find that, despite her relationship with Battles, she still performed substantial work for Aegis, Aegis reaped a direct and immediate benefit from her work, and she had a reasonable expectation that she would be compensated for her work. In sum, taking into account the totality of the circumstances in this case leads me to conclude that Okoro performed work for Aegis as an employee and not as a volunteer.

The court also noted the duty to interpret the FLSA broadly in favor of coverage, given the FLSA’s remedial purpose:

Finally, it must not be forgotten that, by design, the FLSA’s purpose is “remedial and humanitarian.” Tenn. Coal, Iron & R.R. Co. v. Muscodoa Local No. 123, 321 U.S. 590, 597 (1944), superseded by statute, Portal–to–Portal Act of 1947, Pub.L. No. 80–49, 61 Stat. 86 (1947) (codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. § 254). To effectuate this purpose, the FLSA requires courts to interpret its application broadly. See id. With this in mind, allowing Aegis the benefit of Okoro’s free labor when there existed an expectation of compensation would not comport with the FLSA’s purpose.

Thus, to the extent that the plaintiff’s motion seeks a determination that she worked for Aegis and is therefore entitled to compensation for such work under the FLSA, her motion will be granted. Precisely how much work she performed for Aegis, and for how many hours she should be compensated by Aegis, are matters for trial. It is enough to say that the work she performed for Aegis, at least for purposes of the FLSA, was not as a volunteer, but rather as an employee.

Click Okoro v. Pyramid 4 Aegis to read the entire Decision and Order on Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

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5th Cir.: Member of LLC Lacked Sufficient Day-to-Day Involvement In Operation of Nightclub to be “Employer” Under FLSA

Gray v. Powers

This case was before the Fifth Circuit on Plaintiff’s appeal of an Order granting an individual defendant summary judgment, having held that there were insufficient facts to render the individual defendant to be an “employer” subject to FLSA liability.  Affirming the decision below, the Fifth Circuit held that the individual defendant- who was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the defendant nightclub as a member of the LLC that owned same- lacked sufficient involvement to be an “employer.”

According to the court it was undisputed that- after participating in the initial construction of the nightclub- the individual defendant in question (“Powers”) had little day-to-day involvement in the club’s operations:

“After completion of the construction, Powers was not involved in the day-to-day operation of the Pasha Lounge. Powers only visited the club on five or six occasions during the seventeen months the club was open for business. He denies that he supervised any employee, defined employee job duties, controlled work schedules, or maintained employment records. During his rare trips to the lounge, the bartenders would tell him how much they made in tips. Powers was, however, a signatory on PEG’s checking account, along with Kathleen and the club’s general manager, and he occasionally signed several pages of pre-printed checks.

Other members, Kathleen in particular, were much more involved in the operation of the club. Kathleen kept the books, was a signatory on the accounts, received nightly numbers, and served as the point of contact for the general manager. The members of PEG collectively made significant business decisions such as hiring John W. Ritchey, Jr. as the first general manager. Ritchey’s job duties included hiring and firing staff, handling promotions, setting operation hours, and supervising day-to-day operations. In Ritchey’s words, he was “in charge of pretty much everything that went on at the club.” Ritchey was later removed by the members of PEG because his salary was too expensive.

Appellant Gray was a bartender at Pasha Lounge from February to September 2007 and replaced Ritchey as general manager from March to September 2008. Gray asserts that while he was a bartender under Ritchey’s supervision, he and his fellow bartenders were not paid an hourly wage and were compensated solely by tips. Gray considered Ritchey to be his boss at that time because Ritchey hired him and defined his job duties. Though Gray asserts that Powers was another “supervisor,” Gray admitted in a deposition that Powers was not involved in the club’s day-to-day operations. Powers rarely visited the club, but on one visit he did tell Gray that he was doing a “great job.” Also, on two occasions Powers asked Gray to serve specific people while Powers was a patron at the club. Beyond these three instances, Gray could not remember any other occasion when Powers “directed” his work as a bartender. Gray contends, however, that Powers asked him to fill in as general manager after Ritchey was let go. Stephen disputes that fact because he allegedly enlisted Gray to fill in as general manager.”

After going through each element of the economic reality test, the court concluded that there was insufficient evidence that Powers was an “employer” under the FLSA:

“Applying the economic reality test to Powers, we reaffirm the district court’s conclusion that no reasonable jury could have found him to be an employer. The dominant theme in the case law is that those who have operating control over employees within companies may be individually liable for FLSA violations committed by the companies. An individual’s operational control can be shown through his power to hire and fire, ability to supervise, power to set wages, and maintenance of employment records. While each element need not be present in every case, finding employer status when none of the factors is present would make the test meaningless. We decline to adopt a rule that would potentially impose individual liability on all shareholders, members, and officers of entities that are employers under the FLSA based on their position rather than the economic reality of their involvement in the company. In this case, Powers was simply not sufficiently involved in the operation of the club to be an employer. The district court’s judgment is AFFIRMED.”

Click Gray v. Powers to read the entire decision.

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C.D.Cal.: Where Defendant’s Rounding Policy Was Facially Neutral No FLSA Violation

Alonzo v. Maximus, Inc.

In this case, brought under the FLSA and California State laws, plaintiffs alleged a variety of wage and hour violations, including failure to include all appropriate compensation when calculating regular rates (and resulting overtime premiums), unpaid off-the-clock work and impermissible rounding of work-time.  Following discovery, the case was before the court on defendant’s motion for summary judgment.  As discussed here, the court granted defendant’s motion with regard to plaintiffs’ rounding claim, because the evidence demonstrated that the rounding was facially neutral and did not have the overall effect of reducing plaintiffs’ reported time and resulting wages.

Significant to the rounding claim, it was undisputed that defendant’s timekeeping policy required plaintiffs to round their time worked to the nearest quarter of an hour (whether higher or lower) and that plaintiffs self-reported and thus self-rounded their reported time each day/week.

Discussing the rounding issue the court reasoned:

“Defendant moves for summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ Rounding Claim on the basis that Defendant’s time rounding policy is facially neutral, and, therefore, permissible under California law. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant’s Motion is GRANTED.

While no California statute or regulation expressly addresses the permissibility of using a rounding policy to calculate employee work time, the United States Department of Labor has adopted a regulation regarding rounding pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) that permits employers to use time rounding policies under certain circumstances:

It has been found that in some industries, particularly where time clocks are used, there has been the practice for many years of recording the employees’ starting time and stopping time to the nearest 5 minutes, or to the nearest one-tenth or quarter of an hour. Presumably, this arrangement averages out so that the employees are fully compensated for all the time they actually work. For enforcement purposes this practice of computing working time will be accepted, provided that it is used in such a manner that it will not result, over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked.  29 C.F.R. § 785.48(b) (2011).

While few Courts have interpreted this regulation, those that have recognize that the regulation permits employers to use a rounding policy for recording and compensating employee time as long as the employer’s rounding policy does not “consistently result[ ] in a failure to pay employees for time worked.” See, e.g., Sloan v. Renzenberger, Inc., No. 10–2508–CM–JPO, 2011 WL 1457368, at *3 (D.Kan. Apr.15, 2011).

That is, an employer’s rounding practices comply with § 785.48(b) if the employer applies a consistent rounding policy that, on average, favors neither overpayment nor underpayment. East v. Bullock’s, Inc., 34 F.Supp.2d 1176, 1184 (D.Ariz.1998) (granting summary judgment in employer’s favor where “evidence show[ed] that [employer's] rounding system may not credit employees for all the time actually worked, but it also credits employees for time not actually worked” so that the employer’s “rounding practices average[d] out sufficiently to comply with § 785.48(b)”); see also Adair v. Wis. Bell, Inc., No. 08–C–280, 2008 WL 4224360, at *11 (E.D.Wis. Sept.11, 2008) (approving policy where there was no evidence to suggest it systematically favored employer); Contini v. United Trophy Mfg., No. 6:06–cv–432–Orl–18UAM, 2007 WL 1696030, at *3 (M.D.Fla. June 12, 2007) (granting employer’s motion for summary judgment where the “[employer], throughout [the employee's] employment, [used] a consistent policy as to the rounding of clocking-in and clocking-out, which [was] both fair and evenly applied to all employees.”).

An employer’s rounding practices violate § 785.48(b) if they systematically undercompensate employees. See, e.g., Russell v. Ill. Bell Tel. Co., 721 F.Supp.2d 804, 820 (N.D.Ill.2010) (time rounding and log-out policies may violate FLSA if they “cause[ ] plaintiffs to work unpaid overtime”); Austin v. Amazon .com, Inc., No. C09–1679JLR, 2010 WL 1875811, at *3 (W.D.Wash. May 10, 2010) (denying defendant’s motion to dismiss where policy “allows rounding when it benefits the employer without disciplining the employee; but disciplines the employee when the rounding does not work to the employer’s advantage”); Eyles v. Uline, Inc., No. 4:08–CV–577–A, 2009 WL 2868447, at *4 (N.D.Tex. Sept.4, 2009) (granting summary judgment for plaintiff where defendant’s rounding policy “encompasses only rounding down”); Chao v. Self Pride, Inc., No. Civ. RDB 03–3409, 2005 WL 1400740, at *6 (D.Md. June 14, 2005) (ruling that employer’s practice of rounding employee time down violated FLSA).

The parties concede that the federal standard governs this case, as California courts look to federal regulations under the FLSA for guidance in the absence of controlling or conflicting California law, Huntington Mem’l Hosp. v. Superior Court, 131 Cal.App.4th 893, 903, 32 Cal.Rptr.3d 373 (2005), and the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (the “DLSE”) has adopted the Department of Labor regulation in its Enforcement Policies and Interpretation Manual (“DLSE Manual”), DLSE Manual §§ 47.1–47.2.

It is undisputed that Defendant employed a facially neutral time rounding policy. Defendant’s Corporate Employee Manual required employees to self-report their time “on a daily basis by recording hours worked to the nearest quarter hour” on timesheets provided at the beginning of the pay period. (Doc. 127–13, Ex. R at 110; id., Ex. S at 127.) And Defendant’s human resources managers testified that Employment Case Managers in each of Defendant’s San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles locations adhered to this policy by rounding their hours worked to the nearest quarter hour and entering that figure on a daily basis into an electronic time sheet on Defendant’s computer system. (Doc. 127–17 ¶ 5 (San Diego); Doc. 130–15 ¶ 5 (Orange County); Doc. 130–14 ¶ 5 (Los Angeles).)

Plaintiffs do not dispute the mechanics of Defendant’s time reporting policy. In fact, their expert acknowledges that “class members were required to and did round [the total hours worked] to the nearest quarter hour” on their self-reported time sheets. (Doc. 126–5 ¶ 12.) Rather, Plaintiffs contend that “[o]ver a period of time, such rounding resulted in putative class members being paid for less than all the time they actually worked” in violation of § 785.48. (Doc. 126–5 ¶ 12.)

In support of their contention, Plaintiffs point to records generated at Defendant’s San Diego locations by an electronic system used to record when employees entered and exited Defendant’s offices (the “Simplex System”). The Simplex System was “essentially the electronic equivalent of a sign in/sign out sheet. An employee could punch in their number when they arrived at the workplace and then punch in the number when they left the workplace.” (Doc. 127–17 ¶ 6.; see also Doc. 136–2, Ex. A. 52:9–22.) Based on those entries, the Simplex System generated reports “in a variety of formats [showing] various clock-in and clock-out times for each employee for each date” (the “Simplex Records”). (Doc. 127–18 ¶ 16.) At least some employees also used the Simplex System to record the beginning and end of their lunch breaks. (Doc. 136–2, Ex. A. at 54:8–13.)

Plaintiffs used a sample of these Simplex Records to perform two statistical analyses. In the first, Plaintiffs compared the clock-in/clock-out times recorded by Simplex on a particular day with shift beginning and end times for that day. Plaintiffs conclude that their analysis shows that the number of minutes that would have been subtracted from employees’ time under Defendant’s rounding policy was 5.4% more than the number of minutes that would have been added to their time under Defendant’s rounding policy. (Doc. 129–4 ¶ 5; Doc. 127–18 ¶ 19.) In the second, Plaintiffs compared the total hours reflected on Simplex Records for a given employee on a particular day with the total amount paid to that employee reflected on his or her timesheets. Plaintiffs conclude that analysis reveals a net underpayment of 472.72 minutes for the sample group. (Doc. 129–4 ¶ 8.) Based on these statistical comparisons, Plaintiffs assert a triable issue of fact as to whether Defendant’s rounding policy is invalid under California law because it “result[ed], over a period of time, in failure to compensate the employees properly for all the time they have actually worked.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.48(b). Plaintiffs are mistaken.

Even assuming the accuracy of Plaintiffs’ mathematical calculations, which Defendant disputes, Plaintiffs’ statistical analysis of Simplex Records does not create a genuine issue of material fact as to their Rounding Claim. At oral argument, Plaintiffs’ counsel conceded that the evidentiary record is devoid of evidence that Simplex Records reflect time actually worked by Plaintiffs, as opposed to time Plaintiffs may have been present on Defendant’s premises but not engaged in work activities. Rather, Plaintiffs’ counsel clarified that the Rounding Claim is based on Plaintiffs’ contention that all on-premises time reflected by Defendant’s Simplex Records constitutes time during which Plaintiffs were subject to Defendant’s control, and, therefore, compensable as a matter of law under the California Supreme Court’s decision in Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal.4th 575, 94 Cal.Rptr.2d 3, 995 P.2d 139 (2000). The Court disagrees with Plaintiffs’ reading of Morillion.

In Morillion, the California Supreme Court considered whether employees who were required by their employer to travel to a work site on the employer’s buses were “subject to the control of [the] employer” such that their travel time constituted compensable “hours worked” under Industrial Welfare Commission wage order No. 14–80. Id. at 578. The Court concluded that the employees were “subject to the control of [their] employer” during the time they traveled to the employer’s work site because the employer “require[d] plaintiffs to meet at the departure points at a certain time to ride its buses to work,” “prohibited them from using their own cars,” and “subject[ed] them to verbal warnings and lost wages if they [did not use the employer's transportation].” Id. at 587. Accordingly, the employees’ compulsory travel time constituted compensable “hours worked.” Id. at 594. In so ruling, however, the Court clarified that:

[E]mployers do not risk paying employees for their travel time merely by providing them with transportation. Time employees spend traveling on transportation that an employer provides but does not require its employees to use may not be compensable as ‘hours worked .’ Instead, by requiring employees to take certain transportation to a work site, employers thereby subject those employees to its control by determining when, where, and how they are to travel.  Id. at 588 (emphasis added). “The level of the employer’s control over its employees, rather than the mere fact that the employer requires the employee’s activity, is determinative.” Id . at 587.

This case does not present a situation in which Plaintiffs were “subject to the control of [Defendant]” such that all time spent on Defendant’s premises is compensable under the reasoning and holding of Morillion. Here, unlike in Morillion, Plaintiffs have presented no evidence that Defendant required them to arrive at its offices before their shifts began or to remain on the premises after their shifts ended. Nor have they presented evidence that Plaintiffs were engaged in work during any of the on-premises time reflected on their Simplex Records that was not accounted for in their electronic time sheets. In the absence of such evidence, the Simplex Records are simply immaterial to whether Defendant’s rounding policy systematically undercompensated Plaintiffs, and, therefore do not create a genuine issue of material fact as to the legality of Defendant’s rounding policy.

Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to Plaintiffs’ Rounding Claim.”

Click Alonzo v. Maximus, Inc. to read the entire Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment.

 

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S.D.N.Y.: Delay in Asserting Equitable Tolling Not a Bar to Its Application

Chen v. Grand Harmony Restaurant, Inc.

This case was before the court in an unusual procedural posture on defendants’ proactive motion requesting that the court deny tolling of the statute of limitations on plaintiffs’ FLSA and NYLL claims arguing that (1) it is too late for Plaintiffs to make a request for equitable tolling; (2) the equitable tolling doctrine cannot be applied to the remaining individual defendants, as they were not obligated by federal or state law to post the notices at issue; and (3) there is no justification to toll the statute of limitations.  The Magistrate Judge held that plaintiffs had not waived their right to assert a right to equitable tolling based on the passage of time.  The defendants then objected to the Magistrate’s R&R on this ground.  Adopting the Magistrate’s reasoning the court reasoned:

“In his Report, Magistrate Judge Katz properly concluded that Plaintiffs are not barred from invoking the doctrine of equitable tolling because of a delay in raising the issue. Equitable tolling is a matter within the sound discretion of the Court. Defendants do not cite any relevant statutory or case law authority to support their claim that Plaintiffs have waived their right to request that the Court equitably toll the statute of limitations by waiting until this stage in the litigation. Further, Defendants had prior notice that Plaintiffs intended to seek damages back to the beginning of their employment. Plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that Defendants’ actions occurred throughout Plaintiffs’ employment and Defendants acknowledged that the entire period of Plaintiffs’ employment was at issue both in their answer and throughout discovery. The issue of equitable tolling was therefore present, at least implicitly, from the beginning of the action.”

Click Chen v. Grand Harmony Restaurant, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Decision and Order.


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D.Mass.: FLSA Provides For “Gap Time” Claims Where Plaintiff Paid Nothing For Certain Hours, Notwithstanding Fact That Average Hourly Wage Exceeded Minimum Wage

Norceide v. Cambridge Health Alliance

This case was before the court on multiple motions.  As discussed here, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ so-called “gap time” claims.  The case is of significance because the court bucked the predominant trend, and- rather than accepting prior case law as gospel- examined the issue anew.  In so doing, the court held that “gap time” claims are permissible under the FLSA.

Before we get to the court’s analysis though, it’s important to actually explain what gap time is.  Gap time is comprised of non-overtime hours (their inclusion in an employee’s time in the workweek would not bring the employee above the 40 hour overtime threshold), typically worked off-the-clock.  Because some employees have a sufficiently high hourly rate, when all hours (including those the employer failed to specifically pay the employee for) are divided into the renumeration paid to the employee in a given week, the resulting number can be higher than the minimum wage.  The question then arises as to whether the FLSA only provides for an employee to receive minimum wage when all hours are divided into the weekly renumeration OR whether it requires an employee to be paid the minimum wage on an hourly basis for all such hours worked.  These extra hours- which do not bring the average hourly wage below minimum rate- are referred to as “gap time.”  Most courts have held that the FLSA does not provide for recovery of such “gap time” hours.  However, this court disagreed.

Examining the issue, the court reasoned:

“According to CHA, Plaintiffs’ minimum wage claims should be dismissed because they do not allege that CHA ever paid them less than the operative minimum wage. Specifically, CHA argues that, if the total wages paid to any given plaintiff in a week were divided by the total hours worked in the week, then the average hourly wage would be greater than the minimum wage. For instance, suppose that one week Barbatine was scheduled to work 26 hours at a rate of $10.00 an hour and was paid accordingly, meaning she earned $260. However, in fact, she worked an additional 4 hours during her breaks and before/after her shifts and was not paid for this time. According to CHA, Barbatine has no claim for a minimum wage violation, since $260 divided by 30 hours is an average hourly wage of $8.67, which still exceeds the minimum wage.

In reality, Plaintiffs counter, Barbatine was being paid at a rate of $0 per hour for her additional 4 hours. CHA intended for its payment of $260 to cover her scheduled shifts and nothing more. Barbatine’s payment statement for the week in question on its face would indicate that she was getting paid for 26 hours of work, not 30. I agree with Plaintiffs.

The weekly average wage measuring rod that CHA argues should be utilized when assessing minimum wage violations stems from the Second Circuit’s decision in United States v. Klinghoffer Bros. Realty Corp., 285 F.2d 487 (2d Cir.1960). In that case, due to some financial difficulties their employer faced, security guard employees agreed to work an additional six hours per week but not be paid for this time until some later date. Id. at 489–90. The employer, however, never provided compensation for this extra work. The federal government charged the company with violating the FLSA. The Second Circuit dismissed the government’s minimum wage claim on the basis of the weekly average wage theory. Id. at 490. Articulating the purpose of the FLSA only as “guarantee [ing] a minimum livelihood to the employees,” the court found that “the Congressional purpose is accomplished so long as the total weekly wage paid by an employer meets the minimum weekly requirements of the statute, such minimum weekly requirement being equal to the number of hours actually worked that week multiplied by the minimum hourly statutory requirement.” Id. at 490 (citing H.R.Rep. No. 75–2738, at 28 (1938); Sen. Rep. No. 75–884, at 1–3 (1937); H.R.Rep. No. 75–1452, at 8–9 (1937)).

Since the court’s decision in 1960, several other circuits have adopted the Second Circuit’s approach—what has come to be known as the Klinghoffer rule. However, they have mostly done so by citing to Klinghoffer without any further analysis of whether, in fact, the weekly average rule effectuates the legislative intent of the FLSA’s minimum wage law. See, e.g., U.S. Dep’t of Labor v. Cole Enter., Inc., 62 F.3d 775, 780 (6th Cir.1995) (simply noting what “several courts have held”); Hensley v. MacMillan Bloedel Containers, Inc., 786 F.2d 353, 357 (8th Cir.1986) (citing to Klinghoffer without analysis); Blankenship v. Thurston Motor Lines, 415 F.2d 1193, 1198 (4th Cir.1969) (stating without explanation that Klinghoffer “contains a correct statement of the law”). The D.C. Circuit is a notable exception, accepting the weekly average wage rule in Dove v. Coupe only after its own analysis. 759 F.2d 167, 171–72 (D.C.Cir.1985).  The First Circuit, however, has yet to address whether to use the hour-byhour or the Klinghoffer weekly average measure for evaluating minimum wage law compliance. In my view, as explained below, the Klinghoffer weekly average method ignores the plain language of the minimum wage provision and undermines the FLSA’s primary purpose of ensuring a fair wage for workers.

My review of the FLSA is guided by principles of statutory construction; my interpretation “depends upon reading the whole statutory text, considering the purpose and context of the statute, and consulting any precedents or authorities that inform the analysis.” Dolan v. Postal Service, 546 U.S. 481, 486, 126 S.Ct. 1252, 163 L.Ed.2d 1079 (2006).

I begin by looking to the language of the statute. See Kasten v. Saint–Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., ––– U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1325, 1331, 179 L.Ed.2d 379 (2011). The FLSA’s minimum wage provision mandates that an employer pay to each non-exempt employee “wages at the following rates: (1) except as other provided … not less than—(A) $5.85 an hour, beginning on the 60th day after May 25, 2007; (B) $6.55 an hour, beginning 12 months after that 60th day; and (C) $7.25 an hour, beginning 24 months after that 60th day.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(a). As the other courts to have considered this language concede, it speaks only of an hourly wage. Thus, while it is does not explicitly state how to calculate what an employee has been paid for a hour’s worth of work, the statute’s text is explicit that, with respect to the minimum wage, the only metric Congress envisioned was the hour, with each hour having its own discrete importance.

To be sure, other parts of the FLSA speak of a “workweek.” But, this unit of time is used for determining worker entitlement to other protections, most importantly overtime, not for assessing violations of the minimum wage law. See, e.g., 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(2) (“[N]o employer shall employ any of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce … for a workweek longer than forty hours … unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.”). In fact, the other provisions of the FLSA support the conclusion that, for the purpose of determining a minimum wage violation, the use of any unit of time other than an hour is a contrivance. When Congress meant to use the word “workweek” it did so. When it meant to use “hour” that was the word it used.

The FLSA’s legislative history does not explicitly address whether an hour-by-hour or weekly-average method should be employed when determining compliance with the minimum wage law. However, it does makes clear that Congress’ overriding riding purpose when enacting the FLSA was to ensure, as the bill’s name implies, fairness for workers. “The principal congressional purpose in enacting the [FLSA] was to protect all covered workers from substandard wages and oppressive working hours, ‘labor conditions [that are] detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being of workers.’ ” Barrentine v. Arkansas–Best Freight Sys. Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739, 101 S.Ct. 1437, 67 L.Ed.2d 641 (1981) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 202(a)). One way Congress attempted to effectuate this somewhat amorphous goal through the FLSA was by “guarantee[ing] a minimum livelihood to the employees covered by the Act,” Klinghoffer, 285 F.2d at 490 (citing H.R.Rep. No. 75–2738, at 28 (1938); Sen. Rep. No. 75–884, at 1–3 (1937); H.R.Rep. No. 75–1452, at 8–9 (1937)). While the Senate and House reports do not indicate whether Congress had in mind a formula for determining the amount necessary for “a minimum livelihood,” they do reveal that Congress considered the test to be whether a worker received “ ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,’ ” Overnight Motor Transp. Co. v. Missel, 316 U.S. 572, 578, 62 S.Ct. 1216, 86 L.Ed. 1682 (1942) (quoting 81 Cong. Rec. 4983 (1937) (message of President Roosevelt)); see also Barrentine, 450 U.S. at 739.FN5

Congress’ primary concern with protecting worker—not employers—buttresses the above conclusion that the plain language of the minimum wage provision should be read as an endorsement of the hour-by-hour method. When a statute is susceptible to two opposing interpretations—here, the hour-by-hour and weekly average methods—it must be read “in the manner which effectuates rather than frustrates the major purpose of the legislative draftsmen.”   Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 31–32, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 92 L.Ed. 1787 (1948). While the weekly method does ensure that workers earn a base amount after working a certain number of hours in a week, it frustrates the overall purpose of promoting fairness for workers.

Take the Barbatine example above. There, CHA intended for the $260 to compensate for only the 26 hours she was scheduled to work. CHA, therefore, got four free hours of work from Barbatine, while Barbatine received the same amount of compensation after working 30 hours as she would have for working 26 hours. Such a compensation scheme does promote not an environment in which a worker is ensured “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.’ ” See Travis, 41 F.Supp. at 9 (“[I]f the act is given a very strict construction[,] averaging is probably not permitted.”); see also Dove, 759 F.2d at 171.

Taken together, the plain language of the minimum wage provision, the remaining parts of the FLSA, and the Congress’ primary goal of protecting workers buttresses the conclusion that Congress intended for the hour-by-hour method to be used for determining a minimum wage violation.  Here, Plaintiffs have alleged that CHA knew the Plaintiffs were working more hours than reported on their time sheet and that it was not compensating its employees for this time. In other words, Plaintiffs have alleged that CHA intentionally paid its workers $0 for each unrecorded hour worked during their meal breaks and before/after their shifts.  This allegation is sufficient to state a claim for a minimum wage violation at this stage, and CHA’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ FLSA minimum wage claim is DENIED.”

It will be interesting to see if other courts begin following this well-reasoned opinion, and allowing for the recovery of “gap time” under the FLSA.

Click Norceide v. Cambridge Health Alliance to read the entire Memorandum and Order re: Motion to Dismiss, Motion to Amend, Motion for Conditional Certification.

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N.D.Ga.: Exotic Dancers Are Employees Not Independent Contractors; Entitled to Minimum Wages and Overtime

Clincy v. Galardi South Enterprises, Inc.

This case was before the court on numerous motions.  As discussed here, the judge granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and denied defendants’ cross motion, holding that plaintiffs’- exotic dancers or strippers- were defendants’ employees, not independent contractors.  As such, plaintiffs were entitled to minimum wages and overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Significantly, none of the plaintiffs were paid any direct wages by the club in which they worked.  Instead, they paid defendants for the right to perform in their club.  The plaintiffs’ each were required to sign independent contractor agreements as a prerequisite to beginning work for the defendants.  Further, the defendants claimed that the dancers were independent contractors because they were paid directly by customers and did not receive paychecks.  They also claimed that the club did not profit from the dancers and that the dancers did not necessarily drive the club’s business.  However, based on evidence that the defendants set the prices for tableside dances and how much of their gross receipts dancers were required to turn over in the form of “house fees” and disc jockey fees, as well as the fact that the defendants set specific schedules for the dancers, created rules of conduct (subject to discipline), check-in and check-out procedures and otherwise controlled the method and manner in which plaintiffs worked, the court held that the defendants were plaintiffs’ employers under the FLSA.

Although not a groundbreaking decision, it is significant because the majority of strip clubs around the country continue to disregard court decisions that have held that most strippers, employed under circumstances similar to those in the case, are actually employees.

Click Clincy v. Galardi South Enterprises, Inc. to read the entire Order.

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Are the FLSA’s Enterprise Coverage Requirements Outdated in Today’s Economy?

In his recent article, “Taking the Employer Out of Employment Law? Accountability for Wage and Hour Violations in an Age of Enterprise Disaggregation,” Professor, Timothy P. Glynn of Seton Hall School of Law makes a compelling argument that the answer is yes.

In the abstract to his article, Professor Glynn explains:

“Violations of wage and hour mandates are widespread at the low end of the labor market. The disaggregation of business enterprises into smaller, independent parts has been an important factor in this growing problem. Limitations on liability for work-law violations invite such arrangements since statutory protections for workers usually impose duties only on “employers.” That status, in turn, hinges on the level of control a firm exercises over the work, and when exacting control is not necessary, firms usually can avoid accountability by shifting work to independent third-party suppliers. This creates severe enforcement obstacles: detection becomes difficult, labor suppliers often are undercapitalized, and coverage uncertainties lead to unprosecuted claims and discounted settlements. Thus, disaggregation does far more than shift legal responsibility from one entity to another: it allows end-user firms to avoid noncompliance risks while benefiting from labor at a price discounted by the unlikelihood of enforcement.”

Thus, Professor Glynn proposes “eliminating the ‘employer’ coverage barrier altogether.”  Under his approach, “commercial actors would be held strictly liable for wage and hour violations in the production of any goods and services they purchase, sell, or distribute, whether directly or through intermediaries. The only limitation is that a firm’s liability would not exceed the proportion of the violations attributable to the goods or services it purchases, sells, or distributes.”

Adopting this less restrictive coverage requirement would lead to easier enforcement of wage and hour laws and thus, fewer abuses at the low end of the labor market.  It doesn’t appear that there’s any push to adopt these logical changes which would no doubt further the remedial goals of wage and hour laws, but it’s a refreshing perspective nonetheless.  In this day and age, Professor Glynn’s recognition that a modern fractured economy is far different than the economy of the past, with fewer larger actors, is largely unaddressed by wage and hour laws that are currently on the books.

Click Abstract to read more on Professor Glynn’s work.

Thanks to the Workplace Prof Blog for bringing this to our attention.

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D.Colo.: Pizza Hut Delivery Drivers’ Minimum Wage Claims, Premised on Claim That Defendants Failed to Reasonably Estimate Vehicle-Related Expenses for Reimbursement Can Proceed; Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Denied

Darrow v. WKRP Management, LLC

This matter was before the Court on the defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s second amended complaint.  Plaintiff, a Pizza Hut delivery driver, alleged that defendants, Pizza Hut franchisees, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Colorado Minimum Wage of Workers Act (“CMWWA”) by failing to reasonably approximate his automotive expenses for reimbursement purposes, and thereby, failing to pay him minimum wage.

Significantly, defendants paid plaintiff and opt-in plaintiffs at or near the Colorado minimum wage from 2007 to 2009.  According to the court, on average, the plaintiff and opt-in plaintiffs delivered two to three orders per hour and drove five miles per delivery.  Plaintiff alleged that defendants required their delivery drivers to ‘maintain and pay for safe, legally-operable, and insured automobiles when delivering WKRP’s pizza and other food items.’  Defendants reimbursed Plaintiff between $0.75 and $1.00 per delivery for the vehicle expenses incurred by plaintiff to make deliveries. Plaintiff alleged that it was defendants’ policy and practice to unreasonably estimate employees’ automotive expenses for reimbursement purposes, which caused Plaintiff and other similarly situated individuals to be paid less than the federal minimum wage and the Colorado minimum wage from 2007 to 2009 in violation of the FLSA and the CMWWA.

Rejecting defendants’ argument that plaintiff failed to state a claim for unpaid minimum wages under these facts, the court looked to the section 7(e)(2), which states that an employee’s regular rate does not include travel or other expenses incurred in furtherance of the employer’s interest:

“The FLSA provides a definition for “wages,” but does not address an employer’s reimbursement of expenses. However, “[Department of Labor] regulations are entitled to judicial deference, and are the primary source of guidance for determining the scope and extent of exemptions to the FLSA,” including expense reimbursement. Spadling v. City of Tulsa, 95 F.3d 1492, 1495 (10th Cir.1996). Therefore, the Court will look to the Department of Labor regulations to determine whether, under the FLSA, an employee may claim that his wages are reduced below the minimum wage when he is under-reimbursed for vehicle-related expenses. Under 29 C.F.R. § 531.35, “the wage requirements of the [FLSA] will not be met where the employee ‘kicks-back’ directly or indirectly to the employer or to another person for the employer’s benefit the whole or part of the wage delivered to the employee.” A kickback occurs when the cost of tools that are specifically required for the performance of the employee’s particular work “cuts into the minimum or overtime wages required to be paid him under the Act.” Id. Section 531.35 specifically incorporates § 531.32(c), which in turn incorporates § 778.217, which states:

Where an employee incurs expenses on his employer’s behalf or where he is required to expend sums solely by reason of action taken for the convenience of his employer, section 7(e)(2) [which provides that employee's regular rate does not include travel or other expenses incurred in furtherance of the employer's interest] is applicable to reimbursement for such expenses. Payments made by the employer to cover such expenses are not included in the employee’s regular rate (if the amount of the reimbursement reasonably approximates the expenses incurred). Such payment is not compensation for services rendered by the employees during any hours worked in the workweek.  29 C.F.R. § 778.217(a). In Wass v. NPC International, Inc. (Wass I), 688 F.Supp.2d 1282, 1285–86 (D.Kan.2010), the court concluded that these regulations “permit an employer to approximate reasonably the amount of an employee’s vehicle expenses without affecting the amount of the employee’s wages for purposes of the federal minimum wage law.” However, if the employer makes an unreasonable approximation, the employee can claim that his wage rate was reduced because of expenses that were not sufficiently reimbursed. Id. at 1287.

Plaintiff alleges that his under-reimbursed vehicle expenses constituted a kickback to Defendants because Defendants failed to reasonably approximate Plaintiff’s vehicle-related expenses and Plaintiff was specifically required to use and maintain a vehicle to benefit Defendants’ business. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants’ unreasonable approximation of Plaintiff’s vehicle-related expenses led to Plaintiff’s wage being reduced below the minimum wage.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot use an estimated mileage rate as a substitute for actual vehicle-related expenses. Without pleading his actual expenses, Defendants contend that Plaintiff is unable to prove (1) that Defendants’ reimbursement rate was an unreasonable approximation, and (2) that Defendants paid him below the minimum wage as a result of the under-reimbursement. Plaintiff responds that he does not have to produce his actual automotive expenses in order to state a claim under the Iqbal and Twombly standard because he can raise the plausible inference that Defendants’ approximation of his vehicle-related expenses was unreasonable without knowing his actual expenses. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint meets the pleading standard under Iqbal and Twombly.”

After a recitation of the applicable law, the court held that plaintiff had sufficiently pled his estimated costs of running his vehicle, using a variety of facts, including the reimbursement rate paid by defendants versus the IRS’ mileage reimbursement rate.  Further, when taken together with plaintiff’s hourly wages, he had sufficiently pled that defendants failed to pay him at least the federal and/or Colorado minimum wage(s).  Therefore, the court denied defendants’ motion in its entirety.

Click Darrow v. WKRP Management, LLC to read the entire Order.

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Florida’s Minimum Wage Increases to $7.31 Per Hour

The Florida minimum wage increased to $7.31 per hour, effective today, June 1, 2011.  Florida law requires the Agency for Workforce Innovation to calculate an adjusted minimum wage rate each year.  The annual calculation is based on the percentage change in the federal  Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers in the South Region for the 12-month period prior to September 1, 2010.

On November 2, 2004, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment which created Florida’s minimum wage.  The minimum wage applies to all employees in the state who are covered by the federal minimum wage.

Employers must pay their employees the hourly state minimum wage for all hours worked in Florida.  The definitions of “employer”, “employee”, and “wage” for state purposes are the same as those established under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  Employers of “tipped employees” who meet eligibility requirements for the tip credit under the FLSA, may count tips actually received as wages under the Florida minimum wage.  However, the employer must pay “tipped employees” a direct wage.  The direct wage is calculated as equal to the minimum wage ($7.31) minus the 2003 tip credit ($3.02), or a direct hourly wage of $4.29 as of June 1, 2011.

Go to the Palm Beach Post’s website or the State of Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation to read more about the increase.

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U.S.Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit.: 4 Off-the-Clock Cases Against Foot Locker Centralized to Venue of First-Filed Case

In re: FOOT LOCKER, INC.

These proceedings were before the Multi District Panel, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407.  The defendants (Foot Locker) moved to centralize several pending cases, all arising from similar claims, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  At the time Foot Locker’s motion was made four actions were pending in four districts.  Plaintiffs in all actions oppose centralization.  Notwithstanding the opposition of all plaintiffs in all cases, the Panel granted Foot Locker’s motion.

Largely breaking from its prior jurisprudence (in granting the motion over opposition of multiple parties), the Panel reasoned:

“On the basis of the papers filed and hearing session held, we find that these actions involve common questions of fact, and that centralization in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of this litigation. No party disputes that these actions share factual questions arising out of allegations that Foot Locker routinely fails to pay retail employees wages for work they performed. These actions allege that (1) the timekeeping system used by Footlocker allows managers to modify or decrease the time recorded; and (2) Footlocker’s bonus policy encourages managers to force employees to work off-the-clock and to delete time recorded. As in In re Bank of America Wage and Hour Employment Practices Litigation, it appears that defendants’ timekeeping and labor budgeting policies and practices are corporate-wide and uniformly applied. See 706 F.Supp.2d 1369, 1371 (J.P.M.L.2010). Discovery among these actions regarding defendants’ corporate labor budgeting and timekeeping policies therefore will overlap. This litigation, like In re Bank of America, is distinguishable from wage and hour dockets “in which the Panel has denied centralization, because the duties of the employees at issue appeared to be subject to significant local variances.” Id. at 1371, n.3 (citing In re Tyson Foods, Inc., Meat Processing Facilities Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Litig., 581 F.Supp.2d 1374, 1375 (J.P.M.L.2008)).

Plaintiffs’ primarily argue that informal coordination is preferable to centralization since only four actions are pending and plaintiffs are represented by common counsel. Plaintiffs make a strong case against centralization but, on balance, particularly given the likely overlap in discovery and pretrial proceedings, we are persuaded that centralization will promote the just and efficient conduct of this litigation. Though a large number of actions are not presently before the Panel, also weighing in favor of centralization is that additional related actions alleging similar class claims in other states could well be filed. Centralization in these circumstances will have the benefit of eliminating duplicative discovery; preventing inconsistent pretrial rulings, including with respect to class certification; and conserving the resources of the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary.

We are persuaded that the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is the most appropriate transferee district. The first-filed Pereira action has been pending there since May 2007, and Judge J. Curtis Joyner is familiar with the issues in this litigation. Although the Pereira action has been pending for some time, discovery is ongoing and, given that plaintiffs in all actions are represented by common counsel, plaintiffs will not be prejudiced by transfer to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.”

Thus, although the Panel noted that the plaintiffs made a “strong case” against centralization, it centralized the case nonetheless.

Click In re: Foot Locker, Inc. to read the entire Transfer Order.

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