Tag Archives: Work Time

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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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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9th Cir.: Time Police Officers Spent Donning/Doffing Uniforms and Equipment Not Compensable, Because Officers Had The Option Of Donning/Doffing At Home

Bamonte v. City of Mesa

Appellants, police officers employed by Appellee City of Mesa (City), challenged the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the City.  The officers contended that the City violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by failing to compensate police officers for the donning and doffing of their uniforms and accompanying gear. Because officers had the option of donning and doffing their uniforms and gear at home, the district court determined that these activities were not compensable pursuant to the FLSA and the Portal-to-Portal Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, and held that these activities were not compensable pursuant to the FLSA.

To read the entire opinion click here.

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4th Cir.: Because Donning and Doffing of Protective Clothing Constitutes “Changing Clothes,” Compensability of Such Time is Waivable, Under § 203(o), By Collective Bargaining Agreement

Sepulveda v.  Allen Family Foods

Deciding an issue that has divided courts across the country, the 4th Circuit held that, because the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment (PPE) constitutes “changing clothes,” the right to be compensated for such time may be collectively bargained away in a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

“Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 seq.bargaining to exclude “any time spent in changing clothes. . . at the beginning or end of each workday” from compensable work time. § 203(o).   In this case, we are asked to determine whether the donning and doffing of protective gear at a poultry processing plant constitutes “changing clothes” within the meaning of Section 203(o).  We conclude that it does.  Consequently, the employer and union here may—as they currently have—exclude donning and doffing from compensable work time.”

Realizing the factually intensive nature of most, if not all so-called donning and doffing cases, the Court noted that its decision did not mean that the donning and doffing of such PPE was not compensable time, stating “[o]ur holding, of course, does not mean that employees should not be paid for time spent donning and doffing protective gear. Instead, it simply recognizes that the purpose of Section 203(o) is to leave this issue to the collectivebargaining process. Employers and unions are free to determine for themselves how much compensable time should be allocated and for what activities of “changing clothes.” This sort of fact-intensive determination has classically been grist for the mill of collective bargaining, and Congress ensured that employers and unions could keep it that way by enacting Section 203(o).” 

To read the entire decision click here.
 

 

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E.D.Ky.: Time Spent Attending AA Meetings Not Compensable; Although Required By Employer, Attendance At Meetings Not Primarily For Employer’s Benefit

Todd v. Lexington Fayette Urban County Government

This case was before the Court on Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  The Defendant, who required Plaintiff to attend Alcoholic’s Anonymous (AA) meetings during off-duty time claimed that time spent attending such meetings was not compensable.  Agreeing with Defendant and granting it summary judgment, the Court held that although required as a condition of continued employment, because the meetings primarily benefited Plaintiff, the employee, rather than Defendant, his employer, such time was not compensable under the FLSA or Kentucky wage and hour laws.

The Court found the following facts relevant to its determination:

“Todd is an employee of the LFUCG and works as a police officer for its Division of Police (“the police department”). (Rec. 33, Attach. 1, Deposition of Keith Todd, p. 3). On March 1, 2006, while Todd was off-duty and at home, he consumed alcohol and an unknown quantity of Ambien sleeping pills and blacked out. (Id. at 5). Sometime thereafter, Todd’s wife came home, discovered his condition and called 911. (Id. at 5-6). The LFUCG police department responded and an ambulance transported Todd to the University of Kentucky Hospital where he stayed for five days. (Id.). As a result of the combined effects of the alcohol and sleeping pills, Todd has no recollection of the events leading up to his hospitalization. (Id.).

While hospitalized, Todd met with Police Chaplain Welch to discuss, among other things, his need for time off to receive alcohol treatment. (Id.) After his discharge from the hospital, Todd met with his supervisors and requested time off to attend a private alcohol treatment program. (Id. at 7). This request was granted and Todd enrolled a treatment program at the Ridge Behavioral Systems facility in Lexington, Kentucky. (Id. at 9). He successfully completed the sixteen day treatment program on March 30, 2006 and was “released to return to work with no restrictions.” (Rec.18, Attach.2). During the interim, Todd was removed from his duties as a patrol officer and was reassigned to the Bureau of Administrative Services. (Rec. 33, Attach. 1, Deposition of Keith Todd, p. 10).

As a result of the hospitalization, LFUCG required Todd to undergo a “fit for duty” evaluation which was conducted by Dr. Robert Elliott, a psychiatrist. (Id. at 11-12). Upon completing the evaluation, Dr. Elliott determined that Todd was fit to return to full time duty without restrictions subject to the following conditions: (1) that Todd attend three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (“AA meetings”) per week and provide evidence of his attendance every month by having a sponsor sign a monthly report; (2) that Todd should submit to random urine tests for drugs and alcohol twice per month for the first three months upon returning to full time duty and monthly tests thereafter if he was doing well; (3) that Todd should abstain from consuming any alcohol including over the counter medications containing alcohol; (4) that Todd was to continue being monitored by a board certified psychiatrist; and (5) that Todd should consult with his physician and psychiatrist about getting off the prescription drugs that he was taking. (Rec.18, Attach.1, p. 6-7).

After the “fit for duty” evaluation was complete, Todd met with his supervisors and representatives from LFUCG’s Human Resources Office to discuss Dr. Elliott’s findings and his future with the police department. (Rec. 33, Attach. 1, Deposition of Keith Todd, p. 20-21). During the meeting, Michael Allen, the Director of Human Resources discussed each of Dr. Elliott’s recommendations with Todd and asked whether he agreed to abide by them. (Rec. 18, Attach. 5, Letter from Kevin Sutton). Todd agreed to follow Dr. Elliott’s recommendations and understood that “his continued employment as an officer with the … [LFUCG] Division of Police … [was] contingent upon the adherence to these recommendations for the duration of his career with this government.” (Rec. 18, Attach. 4, LFUCG letter). Todd then returned to his full time duties with the police department. (Id.). However, it was understood that “any violation of these [Dr. Elliott’s] recommendations would result in his termination through the Alcohol and Drug Policy.” (Rec. 17, Deposition of Ronnie Bastin, Ex. 1, p. 14); (Rec. 33, Attach. 1, Deposition of Keith Todd, p. 22-23).

Although the record is not entirely clear, it appears that Todd was required to comply with the majority of Dr. Elliott’s recommendations outside of his normal forty hour work week and at his own expense. Police Chief Bastin testified that Todd was not permitted to attend the required AA meetings during his regular working hours. (Rec. 17, Deposition of Ronnie Bastin, p. 6). However, he testified that Todd probably would have been permitted to attend the required psychiatric appointments during regular working hours. (Id. at 7). Todd also appears to have borne the costs associated with his psychiatric evaluations. (Rec. 33, Attach. 1, Deposition of Keith Todd, p. 33-34).”

Finding the time in dispute not to be compensable, the Court stated:

“Todd argues that the FLSA and Kentucky law require LFUCG to compensate him for time spent outside his normal working hours attending AA meetings and psychiatric evaluations. He claims that they were required as a condition of his employment.

Section 207 of the FLSA states that: Except as otherwise provided in this section, no employer shall employ any of his employees … for a work week 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. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). The FLSA defines the term “employ” to include “to suffer or permit to work” but does not define what “work” is. 29 U.S.C. § 203(g). The Supreme Court initially interpreted the FLSA in Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123, and explained that its provisions were “necessarily indicative of a Congressional intention to guarantee either regular or overtime compensation for all actual work or employment.”   Tennessee Coal, Iron & R.R. Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123, 321 U.S. 590, 597, 88 L.Ed. 949, 64 S. Ct 698 (1944). The Court defined “work” to mean “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.” Muscoda, 321 U.S. at 598. The Supreme Court has since indicated that even work performed while off duty can qualify as work and may entitle an employee to compensation under the FLSA. See Steiner v. Mitchell, 350 U.S. 247, 256, 100 L.Ed. 267, 76 S.Ct. 330 (1944)(holding that employees must be compensated for activities performed either before or after the regular work shift if those activities are an integral and indispensable part of the principal activities for which covered employees are employed); see Brock v. City of Cincinnati, 236 F.3d 793, 801 (6th Cir.2001). In Chao v. Tradesmen International, Inc., the Sixth Circuit summarized an employer’s duties under the FLSA and clarified that “the Portal to Portal Act, which amends the FLSA, modified this judicial construction of hours worked to exclude from compensation activities that are ‘preliminary to or postliminary to said principal activity or activities.’ “ Chao v. Tradesmen Int’l, Inc., 310 F.3d 904, 907 (6th Cir.2002)(citing 29 U.S.C. § 254(a)(2); Aiken v. City of Memphis, 190 F.3d 753, 758 (6th Cir.1999)).

The state statutes at issue in this case are found in Kentucky Revised Statutes (“KRS”) Chapter 337, which is Kentucky’s analogue to the FLSA. Specifically, KRS section 337.285 provides that:

No employer shall employ any of his employees for a work week longer than forty (40) hours, unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of forty (40) hours in a work week at a rate of not less than one and one-half (1-1/2) times the hourly rate at which he is employed.K.R.S. § 337.285(1). Neither party has presented any Kentucky cases applying this statute to the present issue-whether an employee is entitled to compensation for off-duty attendance at AA meetings or psychiatric evaluations. In the absence of such authority, Kentucky courts have looked to federal cases interpreting the FLSA for guidance. See, e.g., City of Louisville, Div. of Fire v. Fire Serv. Managers Ass’n, 212 S.W.3d 89, 95 (Ky.2006)(“In the absence of any Kentucky cases on point, we next look to federal cases interpreting the FLSA.”). Accordingly, the Court will apply federal law principals to both the state and federal law claims.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has adopted a three step approach to aid courts in determining whether an activity constitutes “work” for purposes of the FLSA. Thus, to determine whether Todd’s attendance at AA meetings and psychiatric evaluations constitutes “work” under the FLSA, we must consider whether: (1) LFUCG required these activities; (2) whether they were necessarily and primarily for the benefit of LFUCG; and (3) whether they were an indispensable part of Todd’s primary employment activities. See Brock, 236 F.3d at 801-04.

A. Whether Todd’s off-duty activities were required by LFUCG?

LFUCG claims that attending these sessions was not a term or condition of Todd’s employment, but was necessary for him to remain fit for duty which is a pre-condition and continuing condition of his employment. In support of its position, LFUCG draws the Court’s attention to Dade County v. Alvarez, in which the Eleventh Circuit determined that off-duty physical fitness training by police officers was not compensable “work” under the FLSA. Dade County v. Alvarez, 124 F.3d 1380 (11th Cir.1997). However, the facts of Alvarez are distinguishable from this case. In Alvarez, the Eleventh Circuit emphasized that while the officers were instructed to do whatever was necessary to maintain their physical fitness levels, they were not directed to undertake any specific off-duty work out routines or training. Id. at 1383. They were simply required to remain in good enough shape to perform their job functions and pass a physical fitness exam. Id. In remaining physically fit, they had complete discretion in deciding on the method, location and amount of off-duty training necessary. Id. In addition, it is significant for purposes of this case that in Alvarez there was no suggestion that the police officers’ employment would have been adversely affected if they failed to engage in off-duty work outs as long as they maintained an adequate level of physical fitness. Id. at 1385.

LFUCG claims that as in Alvarez, Todd’s condition of continuing employment was not that he attend the AA and psychiatric sessions, but that he remain fit for duty. This assertion is not supported by the evidence in the record. While Todd was permitted to select a psychiatrist and choose which AA meetings to attend, unlike Alvarez, he was required to attend a specific number of counseling and AA sessions. Todd was not permitted to exercise any significant discretion in maintaining his sobriety. In addition, he was required to provide documentation to prove his attendance at the AA meetings and psychiatric evaluations. Finally, and most importantly, unlike Alvarez, there is clear evidence in the record that Todd’s employment would have been adversely affected if he failed to attend any of the required sessions. In fact, Leslie Jarvis of the Division of Human Resources wrote a letter to then Chief of Police Anthany Beatty indicating that Todd’s continued employment was contingent on adhering to the recommendations for the remainder of his career.

In this case, it was not enough for Todd to maintain his sobriety and thereby remain fit for duty. Todd’s failure to attend any of these sessions would have resulted in some form of disciplinary action and may have resulted in his termination. Consequently, Todd’s attendance at the sessions was clearly required by LFUCG.

B. Whether Todd’s attendance at AA meetings and psychiatric evaluations was necessarily and primarily for the benefit of LFUCG?

LFUCG argues that these sessions were not primarily for its benefit because Todd acknowledges that treatment has improved his life by allowing him to achieve and maintain his sobriety. In addition, LFUCG relies on statements by Police Chief Bastin that LFUCG’s goal was to allow Todd to get things straightened up, not only so that he could be a successful employee but also for the sake of his home life. Finally, LFUCG claims that because Todd was able to select his own psychiatrist and the specific AA meetings that best addressed his circumstances, the sessions were primarily for his benefit.

Todd counters that the sessions were primarily for LFUCG’s benefit because his attendance was required and ensured his continued employment and contributions to the police department. Todd also draws the Court’s attention to the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Sehie v. City of Aurora, which he argues supports a determination that attendance at the AA meetings and psychiatric evaluations was primarily for LFUCG’s benefit.

In Sehie v. City of Aurora, a former emergency dispatcher sued her employer under the FLSA claiming that her time spent attending and traveling to and from counseling sessions mandated by her employer was compensable “work” under the FLSA. Sehie v. Aurora, 432 F.3d 749, 750 (7th Cir.2005). These counseling sessions stemmed from a fitness for duty evaluation that was performed after Sehie was involved in an incident at work. Id. at 750. Upon completion of the evaluation, it was recommended as a condition of Sehie’s continued employment that she attend weekly psychotherapy sessions for six months. Id. The Seventh Circuit upheld the district court’s finding that the sessions were primarily for the employer’s benefit. Id. at 752.

However, the facts of Sehie are clearly distinguishable from the instant case. First, in Sehie, the Seventh Circuit explained that because the counseling sessions were required and there was a shortage of telecommunications staff, a strong inference arose that the sessions were for the employer’s benefit. Id. at 752. In this case, no evidence has been presented that LFUCG has a shortage of police officers and that the police department needed to retain Todd’s services. As a result, the inference that the counseling sessions were for the employer’s benefit which arose in Sehie, does not arise in this case.

In Sehie, the court also found that the notion that the sessions were for the plaintiff’s benefit was undermined by the fact that she was not permitted to see the therapist with whom she had an existing treatment relationship. Id. In this case, Todd was permitted to attend sessions with the psychiatrist of his choosing and was able to attend the AA meetings that best met his needs. This supports a finding that the sessions were primarily for Todd’s benefit. Furthermore, unlike Sehie where the employer’s payment of ninety percent of the costs of the counseling sessions was found to support a finding that the sessions were for the employer’s benefit. In this case, Todd apparently bore the costs of his various treatments.

The final significant distinction is that in Sehie, the counseling sessions were required because of an incident that occurred at work. In this case, the incident giving rise to Todd’s fitness for duty evaluation occurred while he was off-duty and at home. Furthermore, the purpose of the counseling sessions in Sehie was to enable the plaintiff to “perform her job duties and relate to co-workers more effectively and at a higher skill level by addressing … personality deficiencies and problems that predated” her incident at work. Id. at 752. The sessions sought to enable Sehie to manage her emotional problems which had become an issue at work, properly respond to 911 calls and remain on the job in a position that was short staffed. Id. None of these facts are present in the instant case. There is no indication that there had been any problem with Todd’s on-duty performance. Furthermore, the counseling sessions were not designed to improve his on-duty performance, but to keep him at its existing level in the face of the reasonable threat that his substance abuse problems might make him unfit for duty and endanger himself or the public. As discussed above, there is also no indication that LFUCG received any significant benefit from keeping Todd on-duty. Even accepting that Todd was an excellent police officer, there is no indication that his position was short-staffed so that a course of treatment that allowed for his retention was primarily for LFUCG’s benefit.

As a result, the Court declines to apply Sehie’s holding to these facts. Moreover, this court heeds the 7th Circuit’s caution that “by no means does our ruling suggest that every time an employer gets help for its employees, the employee must be compensated for hours worked.” Id. at 752. Instead, the Court finds that the AA meetings and psychiatric evaluations were not necessarily and primarily for the benefit of LFUCG. The record certainly supports that Todd was a valued and capable police officer . However, there is no evidence that his retention was in any way crucial to the operations of the police department. Instead, it appears that the primary beneficiary of the psychiatric evaluations and AA sessions was Todd. He has acknowledged that sobriety has improved his life and familial relations. Sobriety has also allowed Todd to retain his employment with the police department, which was apparently threatened by his substance abuse problems. The Court cannot find that while in treatment, Todd learned any skills that enabled him to become a more effective or valuable police officer. The skills that Todd learned enabled him to keep his job and ensured that his conduct did not threaten his ability to protect his own safety, the safety of fellow officers and the safety of the public. While in other contexts, the rigid restrictions put in place by the LFUCG might lead to a different conclusion, given the safety sensitive nature of Todd’s employment as a police officer, these restrictions do not appear to be unjustified and have enured primarily to his benefit, not to the benefit of LFUCG.

C. Whether Todd’s treatment was an indispensable part of the primary activities of Todd’s Employment as a Police Officer?

The Court also finds that Todd’s treatment was not an indispensable part of the primary activities of his employment as a police officer. As LFUCG indicates, the primary activities of police officers include activities such as patrol assignments, apprehending criminals, performing investigations and responding to the various happenings of daily life affecting the public safety. Sobriety is not a primary activity of a police officer’s employment despite the fact that an officer’s lack of sobriety may have a detrimental effect on his ability to perform the requirements of his job adequately. Todd clearly was required to expend significant energy to achieve his sobriety so that he could continue to be an effective police officer. However, he performed no police work while at AA meetings or psychiatric evaluations. This is the case despite the fact that these sessions were required as a condition of his continuing employment. Consequently, these sessions themselves are not a primary and indispensable part of the duties of a police officer.

For the reasons discussed in this opinion, it is the Court’s determination that Todd’s attendance at numerous AA meetings and psychiatric evaluations since March 1, 2006, which were mandated by his employer, does not constitute compensable “work” under the FLSA.”

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Tyson Foods Found In Violation Of Fair Labor Standards Act In Donning And Doffing Suit, Reuters Reports

Reuters is reporting that “Tyson Foods Inc., one of the nation’s largest poultry producers, has been found in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) at its Blountsville, Ala., facility.  The jury’s verdict in federal court in Birmingham resulted from a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor against the company…

The Department of Labor’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.  The federal department alleged that Tyson Foods did not keep accurate records and failed to pay production line employees for the time they spend donning and doffing safety and sanitary gear, and performing other related work activities.  The violations cover the period from the year 2000 to the present and affect approximately 3,000 current and former workers at the plant.

The initial investigation began in April 2000 as part of the department’s Wage and Hour Division’s poultry enforcement initiative.  The Labor Department filed the district court complaint in May 2002 following the company’s failure to comply with the law and to pay back wages.  The first jury trial, which began in February 2009, ended in a mistrial.  The Labor Department chose to pursue a second trial in August 2009 to secure a ruling that Tyson was failing to compensate its employees lawfully.”

To read the full story go to Reuters’ website.

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