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4th Cir.: When Salaried Employees Were Misclassified, Damages Properly Calculated At “Half-Time” Rather Than Time And A Half
Desmond v. PNGI Charles Town Gaming, L.L.C.
As discussed here previously, this was the second time this case ended up at the 4th Circuit. Previously, the 4th Circuit had vacated the trial court’s Order determining the plaintiff’s to be administratively exempt and remanded the case for further findings. On this appeal the plaintiffs challenged the lower court’s ruling as to how their damages in this so-called “salary misclassified” case should be determined. Additionally, the defendant cross-appealed the lower court’s determination, on summary judgment, that it’s violations were willful. Joining other Circuits who have ruled on the calculation issue, the 4th Circuit held that the lower court properly applied a so-called “half-time” calculation in determining the plaintiffs damages.
In making its ruling, the 4th Circuit discussed, at length case law from other circuits:
“The former employees worked as racing officials with Charles Town Gaming. J.A. 50. Charles Town Gaming prepared the job descriptions for racing officials in 1999. Id. at 55-56. In doing so, Charles Town Gaming’s human resources director used a computer program to help determine whether to designate the position as exempt or non-exempt from overtime under the FLSA. Id. Charles Town Gaming paid the racing officials a per diem rate and treated them as exempt. See Aff. Karen Raffo, Nov. 20, 2007. Over the ensuing years, Charles Town Gaming changed the pay from per diem to a fixed weekly salary that the parties intended to cover all hours worked. See J.A. 56, 146-52; Aff. Karen Raffo, Nov. 20, 2007. Charles Town Gaming believed (erroneously) that the former employees were subject to the FLSA administrative exemption; therefore, Charles Town Gaming did not pay them overtime. J.A. 49. All three appellants often worked more than 40 hours in a week. Id. at 50. After the appellants unanimously declared the wrong horse to have won a race, Charles Town Gaming dismissed them from their employment. Id.
The former employees contend the district court erred in calculating their unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Charles Town Gaming contends the district court erred by concluding that their FLSA violation was willful. We review a grant of summary judgment de novo. See, e.g., United States v. Bergbauer, 602 F.3d 569, 574 (4th Cir.2010). When cross-motions for summary judgment are before a court, the court examines each motion separately, employing the familiar standard under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Ga. Pac. Consumer Prods., L.P. v. Von Drehle Corp., 618 F.3d 441, 445 (4th Cir.2010).
The former employees challenge how the district court calculated their unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The Supreme Court addressed how to calculate such unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in Overnight Motor. 316 U .S. at 580. The Court held that when calculating the “regular rate” of pay for an employee who agreed to receive a fixed weekly salary as payment for all hours worked, a court should divide the employees fixed weekly salary by the total hours worked in the particular workweek. Id. at 579-80 (analyzing section 7 of the FLSA, now codified at 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1)). This calculation should be completed for each workweek at issue and results in a regular rate for a given workweek. Id. Of course, the Court recognized that the regular rate could vary depending on the total hours worked. The Court then determined that the employee should receive overtime compensation for all hours worked beyond 40 in a given workweek at a rate not less than one-half of the employee’s regular rate of pay. Id.
Although the parties agree that Overnight Motor applies in calculating the regular rate, they disagree about how to calculate the overtime premium. Specifically, the parties disagree over whether the former employees should receive 150% of the regular rate for all hours worked over 40 in a given workweek or 50% of the regular rate for all hours worked over 40 in a given workweek.
In analyzing how to calculate unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in this mistaken exemption classification case, we note that four sister circuits have addressed this issue. The First, Fifth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits all have determined that a 50% overtime premium was appropriate in calculating unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in mistaken exemption classification cases, so long as the employer and employee had a mutual understanding that the fixed weekly salary was compensation for all hours worked each workweek and the salary provided compensation at a rate not less than the minimum wage for every hour worked. See Urnikis-Negro v. Am. Family Prop. Servs., 616 F.3d 665 (7th Cir.2010); Clements v. Serco, Inc., 530 F.3d 1224 (10th Cir.2008); Valerio v. Putnam Assocs., Inc., 173 F.3d 35 (1st Cir .1999); Blackmon v. Brookshire Grocery Co., 835 F.2d 1135 (5th Cir.1988).
In Blackmon, the Fifth Circuit applied 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 to calculate unpaid overtime compensation in a mistaken exemption classification case. 835 F.2d at 1138. The employees in Blackmon were meat-market managers who were wrongly classified as exempt. Id. at 1137-38. The district court calculated their unpaid overtime compensation by dividing the weekly salary by 40 hours to determine their regular rate, multiplying that rate by 150%, and then multiplying that result by the number of overtime hours. Id. at 1138. The Fifth Circuit rejected this method, instead applying 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 to determine the regular rate, and only using a 50% multiplier. Id. The Fifth Circuit did not cite, much less discuss, Overnight Motor.
In Valerio, the First Circuit upheld an award of summary judgment in a mistaken exemption classification case. 173 F.3d at 39-40. Valerio was wrongly classified as an exempt employee. Id. at 37. Upon dismissing Valerio from employment, her employer gave her a lump-sum payment intended to cover any overtime owed to her. Id. at 38. In calculating the unpaid overtime compensation, the employer paid her a 50% overtime premium and relied on 29 C.F.R. § 778.114. The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s finding that the amount paid was more than was owed to Valerio under the FLSA. Id. In Valerio, the First Circuit cited, but did not discuss, Overnight Motor. Id. at 39-40.
In Clements, the Tenth Circuit affirmed a district court’s application of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 to calculate unpaid overtime compensation in a mistaken exemption classification case. 530 F.3d at 1225. The employees in Clements provided recruiting services to the Army on behalf of their employer, Serco. Id. Serco had erroneously classified these employees as exempt under the “outside salesmen” exemption. Id. at 1227; cf. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). The employees claimed a 150% multiplier applied because the employer and employees had not agreed on whether overtime compensation was owed. Clements, 530 F.3d at 1230. In affirming the use of a 50% multiplier in calculating the unpaid overtime compensation, the Tenth Circuit cited 29 C.F.R. § 778.114, the First Circuit’s decision in Valerio, and our decision in Bailey v. County of Georgetown, 94 F.3d 152, 155-57 (4th Cir.1996). Clements, 530 F.3d at 1230. The Tenth Circuit found the lack of a clear and mutual understanding on the overtime premium to be “irrelevant as to whether the Employees understood they were being paid on a salaried … basis.” Id. at 1231. In Clements, the Tenth Circuit did not cite, much less discuss, Overnight Motor.
In Urnikis-Negro, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s award of a 50% overtime premium to calculate unpaid overtime compensation in a mistaken exemption classification case. 616 F.3d at 684. However, the court rejected the district court’s retroactive application of 29 C.F.R. § 778.114, finding it a “dubious source of authority for calculating a misclassified employee’s damages.” Id. at 679. Instead, the court relied on Overnight Motor. Id. at 680-84. The court held that when an employer and employee agree that a fixed salary will constitute payment at the regular rate for all hours worked and the rate is not lower than the minimum wage, a court should rely on Overnight Motor to calculate unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Id. Moreover, in such a situation, the court calculates the unpaid overtime compensation using a 50% multiplier rather than a 150% multiplier. See id.
In addition to these decisions from our sister circuits, the Department of Labor also has approved using a 50% overtime premium to calculate unpaid overtime compensation in a mistaken exemption classification case. See Retroactive Payment of Overtime and the Fluctuating Workweek Method of Payment, Wage and Hour Opinion Letter, FLSA 2009-3 (Dep’t of Labor Jan. 14, 2009). The DOL issued the opinion letter in response to an employer who asked how to compensate employees mistakenly classified as exempt. Id. at 1. In the opinion letter, the DOL states that “because the fixed salary covered whatever hours the employees were called upon to work in a workweek; the employees will be paid an additional one-half their actual regular rate for each overtime hour …; and the employees received and accepted the salary knowing that it covered whatever hours they worked,” a retroactive payment of overtime using the 50% multiplier conforms with FLSA requirements. Id. at 2.
Here, the district court did not apply 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 to this mistaken exemption classification case. Rather, the district court relied on the logical implications of Overnight Motor to calculate unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Desmond, 661 F.Supp.2d at 584. The district court found that there was an agreement that the fixed weekly salary covered all hours worked. Id. The district court then reasoned that Overnight Motor’s regular-rate determination implies the previously paid weekly salary covers the base compensation for all hours worked. Id. Thus, the district court concluded that it need only award 50% of the regular rate to provide the employees their “unpaid overtime compensation” under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Id.
Appellants disagree and insist that such a reliance on Overnight Motor improperly expands federal common law. They also (confusingly) argue that Chevron deference to 29 C.F.R. § 778.114 requires courts to use a 150% multiplier and that if employers are allowed to retroactively apply section 778.114 in mistaken exemption classification cases, employers have no motive to pay for overtime as it accrues, effectively treating nonexempt employees as if they were exempt. In appellants’ view, such a holding will create an incentive for employers to pay a fixed weekly salary, never to pay overtime, and then simply pay a 50% premium on the regular rate if caught misclassifying non-exempt employees as exempt employees. Cf. 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1); 29 C.F.R. pt. 541 (white-collar exemption regulations).
As the district court held, appellants’ argument ignores the teaching of Overnight Motor. After all, in Overnight Motor, the Court recognized that employees and employers are free to agree to a reduced hourly wage in exchange for a fixed weekly salary, provided the fixed weekly salary covers all hours worked and meets minimum wage requirements. 316 U.S. at 580. In our view, the district court correctly concluded that Overnight Motor provides the appropriate method for calculating the unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in this case. Tellingly, in Overnight Motor, the Court provided the formula to compute the overtime due an employee who was paid a fixed weekly salary intended to cover all hours worked. Overnight Motor, 316 U.S. at 580 n. 16. Although Overnight Motor concerned the more basic question of whether overtime compensation applies to those earning more than the minimum wage requirements in the FLSA, 316 U.S. at 575, it contains nothing to indicate why such a computation would not apply in determining unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) in a mistaken exemption classification case. Indeed, in Overnight Motor, the Court interpreted 29 U.S.C. § 207(a) and explained the meaning of “the regular rate at which he is employed,” and interpreted 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and explained how to calculate “unpaid overtime compensation.” See Overnight Motor, 316 U.S. at 574 n. 2, 579-80.
Traditional principles of compensatory damages bolster this conclusion. Compensatory damages are “[d]amages sufficient in amount to indemnify the injured person for the loss suffered.” Black’s Law Dictionary 445 (9th ed.2009). Here, the former employees agreed to receive straight time pay for all hours worked in a given workweek and have already received such pay. Thus, the “loss suffered” is the 50% premium for their overtime hours. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s judgment about how to calculate unpaid overtime compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).”
Currently, the plaintiffs in the 7th Circuit case, Urnikis-Negro v. Am. Family Prop. Servs., 616 F.3d 665 (7th Cir.2010), have filed a petition for cert in the Supreme Court, so the effect of the 4th Circuit’s holding may be should-lived.
E.D.La.: Notwithstanding The Use Of A 212 Hour Month In Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), City Failed To Provide Adequate Proof It Adopted A 28-day Work Period As Required For § 207(k) Exemption
Miley v. City of Bogalusa
Fire suppression and prevention employees of the City of Bogalusa (the City) filed a complaint against the City to recover overtime, liquidated damages, and attorney’s fees, pursuant to the FLSA. The firefighters work a three-day cycle (one day on duty and two days off), their pay schedule is bi-monthly on the fifteenth and last day of the month, and the pay periods vary in length. The City pays a flat 12 hours of overtime pay monthly. The firefighters alleged that they routinely work in excess of the basic overtime threshold of 40 hours in a workweek. They sought overtime pay at the rate of one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. Alternatively, assuming that a seven-day work cycle has been adopted by the City, the plaintiffs alleged that they are entitled to full overtime for all hours worked beyond 60 hours in a work week. The threshold issue before the Court was whether the City had properly adopted a 28-day work period as required to assert their exemption under § 207(k). As discussed below, the Court held they had not.
Discussing the 207(k) exemption, the Court stated, “[t]here is no dispute that the City is eligible for the exemption under § 207(k) as a local government that provides vital public services. The parties agree that there are no disputed issues of material fact, and the question is whether the City adopted the seven day or 28-day work period to qualify for the exemption.
The plaintiffs contend that the City has not opted for the overtime exemption under § 207(k), and the regular overtime provisions of § 207(a) apply, requiring an employer to pay overtime compensation at a rate of one and one half times the regular rate after the employee has worked more than 40 hours in a week. Moreover, the plaintiffs contend that the City provided no statement or announcement that it has adopted any seven to 28-day period. The plaintiffs agree that the adoption of a particular work period necessary to come under the exemption of § 207(k) does not have to be formal or express if the City can demonstrate adoption by its actions. See Singer v. City of Waco, Tex., 324 F.3d at 819 (a municipality can establish a particular work period by demonstrating that it actually pays its fire fighters in accordance with the longer work period).
The City argues that it set out a 28-day work period, as evidenced by the reference to an hourly scale based on 212 hours per month, when negotiating the collective bargaining agreement. It further argues that it paid its firefighters through a formula in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement for the past twenty years.
The Bogalusa Professional Firefighters Association-Local No. 687-AFL-CIO entered a collective bargaining agreement with the City on April 19, 1989. Article IV addresses the “Hours of Work” for firefighters as follows:
The normal working hours shall be twenty-four hours on and forty-eight hours off and shifts shall be arranged and working assignments made in accordance with this schedule. As these working hours which were requested by the Union and have been in effect for a number of years result in at least one out of every three work weeks being in excess of the sixty hours provided by law, the Union, on behalf of its members, does hereby waive any overtime pay for any hours of work in excess of sixty hours per calendar week resulting from this working schedule and have requested each employee to personally execute a waiver of overtime to this extent. However, any firefighter called back to work other than pursuant to a regular shift shall be paid overtime at the rate of one and one-half times his usual salary to be determined by reducing his average monthly salary to an hourly scale, based on 212 hours per month and to include State Supplementary Pay; all in addition to his regular monthly salary.
Dale Branch, the City attorney, represented the City in negotiating the collective bargaining agreement. He opined that the City had adopted the 28-day work period by its payroll-calculation practice for the past 20 years, and that the formula used to calculate overtime pay was designed to comply with the FSLA and its state counterpart, Louisiana Revised Statute 33:1994, based on a 28-day work period. Def. exh. C at 43, 49. He admitted that he does not know the origin of the formula, nor when it was implemented, and that he knows of no other document or other indication of the adoption of a work period by the City.
Patty Sandifer, a City payroll computer operator, testified in her deposition that Bogalusa firefighters work 240 hours a month, consisting of ten, twenty-four hour shifts. On the 15th of the month, firefighters are paid for 120.01 hours. At the end of the month, the firefighters receive regular pay and additional compensation for setup, shift differential, overtime, and contract overtime.
In order to calculate overtime pay, Sandifer applies a formula, which the City has used for over 20 years. Sandifer begins with the firefighter’s base salary from a salary schedule and adds a state monthly supplement to obtain a monthly salary. The monthly salary is divided by 212 to provide the monthly rate per hour. Sandifer then subtracts the hourly state supplemental from the monthly rate to obtain the base hourly rate. The base hourly rate is used to calculate any overtime payment that is due. The base hourly rate is multiplied by 2880, which represents the firefighter’s annual hours (12 x 240). The resulting amount is the annual overtime salary. Sandifer has no idea where the number 212 originated other than that it is the monthly hours used for figuring overtime.
In this case, the City has provided no statement or announcement that it has adopted a 28-day work period for § 207(k) purposes. The firefighters worked a three-day cycle of 24 hours on and 48 hours off and were paid twice a month. The use of 212 hours referenced in the collective bargaining agreement to calculate the overtime without more is insufficient to establish a 28-day work period. Further, the 212 reference is contained in a sentence which applies to “any firefighter called back to work other than pursuant to a regular shift” and is not applicable to the overtime hours at issue. Accordingly, the City has not carried its burden of proving it adopted a 28-day work period.
Alternatively, the City argues that it is entitled to an exemption using the seven-day work period. In support of the argument, the City relies on the testimony of its experts, Don Strobel and Karen Clampitt that firefighter are entitled to overtime only after 53 hours a week, even if a work period is not adopted under § 207(k), because the Department of Labor does not require that the City “revert back to a 40-hour work week.”
The plaintiffs filed a motion in limine to exclude the testimony of Don Strobel and Karen K. Clampitt, pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 704. They argue that the expert opinions are impermissible legal conclusions that there is no violation of the FLSA and do not assist the court in determining the facts.
Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 704 govern the admissibility of expert testimony. Rule 702 provides:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
Rule 704 provides:
Opinion on Ultimate Issue
(a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), testimony in the form of an opinion or inference otherwise admissible is not objectionable because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact.
(b) No expert witness testifying with respect to the mental state or condition of a defendant in a criminal case may state an opinion or inference as to whether the defendant did or did not have the mental state or condition constituting an element of the crime charged or of a defense thereto. Such ultimate issues are matters for the trier of fact alone.
The motion in limine to exclude the testimony is denied, and the court will consider the expert testimony offered by the City.
The experts opine that the Department of Labor takes the position that, if someone is engaged in firefighting and they meet the duty test, then they can only go down to the 53 hours a week without compliance with the § 207(k) exemption. They opine that firefighters would be entitled to overtime after 53 hours, not 40 hours, even if they “had never heard” of § 207(k).
The experts base their opinion on their experience in the Department of Labor, but do not explain the basis of their opinion or present documents, cases, opinion letters, or regulations upon which they rely. When asked in the deposition to point to a regulation that provides for a default to 53 hours if the City does not establish an exemption, Strobel stated that he did not think it appeared in the regulations, the field office handbook, or an internal document. Clampitt stated in her deposition that she did not rely on any regulation, but just her “working knowledge of the law.”
The opinions of the experts do not establish that the City is entitled to a “default” work period of seven days. Other than the opinion of the experts, the City offers no evidence to carry its burden of establishing that it adopted a seven-day work period.
Accordingly, the City has not carried its burden of establishing that it qualifies for the exemption by adopting either a seven or 28-day work period. Therefore, the City is not entitled to the partial overtime exemption under § 207(k). The case will proceed to trial on the issues whether the terms of the collective bargaining agreement limiting overtime to twelve hours a month should be enforced; what, if any, amount the firefighters are owed as overtime compensation; whether the City is entitled to a set off for overtime that it has paid; and whether the City acted in good faith in its payment of overtime.
Accordingly, there are no disputed issues of material fact, and the plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is granted, and the City’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.”
W.D.Wash.: FLSA Plaintiff’s Proffered Expert Testimony Admissible Under FRE 702
Dixon v. City of Forks
This case was before the Court on Defendant’s motion to exclude Plaintiff’s proposed expert testimony, from 2 separate experts. The Court denied the motion, after applying FRE 702’s requirements for expert testimony.
The primary claims in this case brought under the FLSA and Washington’s Minimum Wage Act (MWA) were based on Defendants’ alleged failure to compensate Plaintiff for off-shift/overtime care and maintenance of his police dog while employed as a police officer for the City of Forks.
Plaintiff identified two expert witnesses and submitted the expert witness reports for Deputy John Munson and Steve Grasser.
“Deputy Munson proposes to testify that 60 minutes per day is a reasonable amount of time for Plaintiff to have spent working with police canine during Plaintiff’s off-shift hours. He also proposes to testify that the time spent by Plaintiff in off-shift training, grooming, feeding, and exercising his canine was reasonable and necessary. Deputy Munson’s testimony is based on his experience and training as a professional canine handler, as well as his discussions with Plaintiff as to Plaintiff’s off-shift time commitments caring for and maintaining his canine, Robyn.
Defendant objects to the testimony of Deputy Munson on the basis that (1) it provides a legal opinion, (2) it is speculative and (3) it forces the City to defend two claims and will confuse and mislead the jury.
Plaintiff’s expert witness Steve Grasser is a certified public accountant. Mr. Grasser proposes to testify regarding the Plaintiff’s average hourly overtime rate of pay during the relevant period of time that Plaintiff was employed as a canine officer with the City of Forks. Grasser’s opinions are derived from an analysis of the City of Forks’ payroll history reports from the relevant time period.
Defendant objects to this testimony as (1) it encompasses common knowledge, (2) it is speculative and (3) it will confuse, not assist the trier of fact.”
Holding first, that the proposed testimony of Munson, the expert dog handler, was admissible, the Court explained, “Plaintiff and Defendant dispute the justification for overtime and the amount of overtime hours necessary for the maintenance and care of the canine. Although the testimony is directed at determining an ultimate issue, its purpose is to assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence to determine a fact at issue. The reasonableness of the alleged overtime is an issue of fact for the jury. Caring for and maintaining a dog, especially a police dog, is not within the common knowledge of a lay person. Albanese v. Bergen County, N.J., 991 F.Supp. 410, 424 (D.N.J.1997). In addition, Plaintiff’s’ expert serves to negative the reasonableness of the argument of Defendant, that off-shift care and maintenance was not required or was de minimus in nature. See Albanese, at 424.Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s expert Deputy Munson’s testimony is not a legal conclusion.
Not is the proposed testimony speculative. Deputy Munson’s testimony is based, in part, on his discussions with Plaintiff as to what he did off-shift in the care and maintenance of his canine. Accordingly, the proposed testimony is not based on speculation, but on the first-hand information provided by Plaintiff and Mr. Munson’s expertise as a professional canine handler.
The Court also rejects Defendant’s “two claims” argument. The expert’s opinion as to what is reasonable in the care of a police canine and the reasonableness of the time expended for the care of the police canine does not constitute unfair prejudice; nor will not mislead or confuse the jury. Plaintiff is required to establish the activity for which overtime compensation is sought constitutes “work” and that such work must be actually compensable; the quantum of time claimed by plaintiff must not be de minimis, and must be reasonable in relation to the principal activity. Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680, 688, 693 (1946). The expert testimony provides a factual basis for a jury determination of reasonableness of the overtime work that may be established by Plaintiff at trial.
The testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Deputy John Munson is admissible.”
In allowing the proposed testimony of Plaintiff’s expert accountant the Court noted, “Mr. Grasser’s testimony as to Officer Dixon’s rate of overtime pay is not based on speculation, but on an analysis of the City’s records. Nor is the testimony prejudicial. His testimony merely goes to a rate of overtime pay. Whether Mr. Dixon worked these hours (60 minutes daily) is not an issue that Mr. Grasser’s testimony addresses.
Mr Grasser’s opinions are properly based on the payroll evidence and his accounting expertise in analyzing and synthesizing this payroll data. The testimony will assist the trier of fact in comprehending factual issues beyond the scope of understanding of the average person. The testimony is neither based on speculation or confusing or prejudicial.
The testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Deputy Steve Grasser is admissible.”
Click here to read the full Federal Rules of Evidence 702.
N.D.Cal.: Former DOL Wage and Hour Investigator Struck As Expert Because Cannot Testify As A “Legal Expert”
Valladon v. City of Oakland
Defendant sought to use a former DOL Wage and Hour Investigator as their expert to defend this FLSA claim. While working at the Department of Labor (“DOL”), Ms. Kramer gained expertise on Department of Labor regulations and federal case law interpreting FLSA.
She applied this expertise in her report and arrives at the following conclusion:
‘[I]t is my opinion that the City’s compensation practices with regard to donning and doffing of uniforms and equipment and the maintenance of uniforms and equipment, as well as its practices with regard to the use of compensatory time of, fully comply with the FLSA.’ Ms. Kramer also opined that if the Court nonetheless found that the Defendant’s practices violate FLSA, (1) those violations are not willful, so a two-year statute of limitations applies and (2) that the City is not liable for liquidated damages because it acted in good faith with a reasonable belief that its practices were lawful. Ms. Kramer reached these conclusions by analyzing DOL regulations and federal cases interpreting FLSA and determining whether the policies at issue here violate those laws. That is, she applied the facts of this case to the law. For example, after interpreting the text of FLSA, the DOL’s regulation concerning the “continuous workday rule,” two Supreme Court cases, a DOL advisory opinion, and the DOL’s “Wage and Hour Division’s Field Operations Handbook,” Ms. Kramer 2 concluded, ‘Thus, applying DOL’s interpretation of the FLSA and the agency’s own regulations, the time [p]laintiffs spent donning and doffing uniforms and equipment is not compensable because the City permits donning and doffing at home.’
Ms. Kramer used a similar method to reach her opinions about the statute of limitations and the reasonableness of the Defendant’s policies. She even opines that a particular district court reached the “incorrect” legal conclusion about whether a city must compensate its employees for the time spent donning and doffing uniforms.
Finding that, “Ms. Kramer’s “expert report” reads like a legal brief,” the Court found that because “[r]esolving doubtful questions of law is the distinct and exclusive province of the trial judge,” Nationwide, 523 F.3d at 1058 (citation omitted), Ms. Kramer’s report must be stricken. The Court reasoned that “her area of expertise is the law. She therefore purports not to “assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue,” but to help the jury understand the law itself. This is not permissible.
The Court further clarified its holding saying, “[h]ad Ms. Kramer offered opinions moored to the facts of this case, such opinions would not have been inadmissible merely because they included reference to legal terms or regulations. See, e.g., Hangarter v. Provident Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 373 F.3d 998, 1017 (9th Cir.2004) (citation omitted) (“[A] witness may properly be called upon to aid the jury in understanding the facts in evidence even though reference to those facts is couched in legal terms.”). However, Ms. Kramer’s report as drafted, and hence her anticipated testimony, was effectively a surrogate for legal instructions to the jury. This is not allowable.