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D.Mass.: Personal Day Buy-Back, Yearly Sick Day Incentive Pay, Yearly Sick Leave Buy-Back Pay And Sick Leave Buy-Back Upon Separation Must Be Included In Officers’ “Regular Rate” Under The FLSA
Lemieux v. City of Holyoke
This case was before the Court on several cross-motions regarding a variety of issues arising from the application of various principles of the FLSA. As discussed here, the Court determined that several types of incentive and “buy-back” pay necessarily had to be included in the plaintiffs’ “regular rate” of pay (and resulting overtime rates).
Discussing the issue of whether such pay need be included in the plaintiff-employees regular rate of pay under the FLSA, the Court held:
“Because the FLSA requires overtime compensation to be paid at “a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which [an employee] is employed,” 29 U.S.C. § 207(a), “[c]alculation of the correct ‘regular rate’ is the linchpin of the FLSA overtime requirement.” O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 294. Under the terms of the CBA, Holyoke firefighters, in certain circumstances, are entitled to receive augments to their base salary. At issue is whether the FLSA requires Defendants to include eight of these contractual remunerations-yearly personal day buy-back; yearly sick day incentive pay; yearly sick leave buy-back pay; sick leave buy-back upon retirement, resignation, or death; vacation buy-back upon retirement; yearly holiday pay; detail pay; and Student Awareness of Fire Education (“SAFE”) pay-in Plaintiffs’ “regular rate” for the purpose of calculating overtime compensation. Plaintiffs argue that the statute requires this; Defendants argue that it does not.
The FLSA defines “regular rate” to include “all remuneration for employment paid to, or on behalf of, the employee” unless it falls under one of the eight expressly provided exclusions listed in paragraphs (1) through (8) of subsection (e) of the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(1)-(8). This “list of exceptions is exhaustive, the exceptions are to be interpreted narrowly against the employer, and the employer bears the burden of showing that an exception applies.” O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 294 (citations omitted).
For the reasons that follow, the court holds that Defendants are obligated to include yearly personal day buy-back, yearly sick day incentive pay, yearly sick leave buy-back pay, and sick leave buy-back upon retirement, resignation, or death in the officers’ “regular rate” under the FLSA.
a. Buy-Back Provisions.
The CBA entitles Holyoke firefighters, subject to certain conditions, to sell back to the city sick leave time, vacation time, personal time, and holiday time that they have accrued but not used. Plaintiffs argue that the city is required to include the value of these “buy-backs” in the “regular rate” because they are renumeration not falling under any of the exceptions listed in 207(e)(1)-(8). Defendants contend that none of these buy-backs are paid as compensation for Holyoke firefighters’ hours of employment, and that they are all, therefore, excludable under section 207(e)(2).
Section 207(e)(2) provides that “payments made for occasional periods when no work is performed due to vacation, holiday, illness, … or other similar cause; … [or] other similar payments to an employee which are not made as compensation for his hours of employment” are excludable from the “regular rate.” 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(2). It is plain that the value of the accrued time in dispute, if utilized by the firefighters for its intended purpose, would be excluded under 207(e)(2). The question before the court is whether a lump sum payment, keyed to time accrued for the causes listed in section 207(e)(2), although paid later under a buy-back program, is also excludable under that section.
i. Holiday and vacation time buy-back.
As to payments for accrued holiday and vacation time, the law is clear that these payments are excludable under section 207(e)(2) regardless of whether they are paid contemporaneously for days missed or are deferred and paid in a lump sum. Department of Labor Regulations explicitly provide that the 207(e)(2) exclusion applies even when an employee foregoes a day off but still receives the pay. 29 C.F.R. § 778.219(a). Accordingly, holiday and vacation buy-back payments are excluded under section 207(e)(2) and need not be included in the regular rate under the FLSA.
ii. Personal time buy-back.
Similarly, buy-back payments for personal time are excludable from the regular rate under the FLSA. Personal time, like holiday and vacation time, is paid idle time which, subject to scheduling restrictions, may be used by firefighters at their discretion as a matter of right. Therefore, personal time buy-back payments are excludable under section 207(e)(2). 29 C.F.R. § 778.219(a).
However, one wrinkle remains. Under the terms of the CBA, unused personal time is cashed in at one hundred and ten percent (110%) of that year’s rate. (CBA ¶ 33.0(D)). It appears that this ten percent premium represents an incentive bonus for employees who forego taking personal days. Because the express terms of CBA make this ten percent bonus non-discretionary, see id. (“[t]he payout shall occur in January of the following year”), it must be included in the “regular rate” under the FLSA. 29 U.S.C. § 7(e)(3)(a); 29 C.F.R. 778.211(c). See also Walling v. Harnischfeger Corp., 325 U.S. 427, 431 (U.S.1945) (noting that employees “who receive incentive bonuses in addition to their guaranteed base pay clearly receive a greater regular rate than the minimum base rate”).
iii. Sick leave buy-back.
The slightly more difficult question concerns whether remuneration in the form of buy-back payments for unused sick leave time is includable in the “regular rate” under the FLSA. Article 11 of the CBA provides Holyoke firefighters with three opportunities to sell accrued but unused sick leave time back to the city. Unlike vacation and holiday time, the Department of Labor regulations do not address whether section 207(e)(2) excludes the value of deferred sick leave time from the FLSA’s regular rate. See 29 C.F.R. § 778.219(a) (discussing only vacation and holiday pay).
In a closely analogous case, however, the Eighth Circuit has held that “sick leave buy-back monies constitute remuneration for employment” because “in contrast to § 207(e)(2) payments, [they] are awarded to employees for coming to work consistently, not for work that was never performed.” Acton v. City of Columbia, 436 F.3d 969, 977 (8th Cir.2006). In so holding, the Acton court reasoned that “the primary effect of the buy-back program is to encourage firefighters to come to work regularly over a significant period of their employment tenure” and concluded that the buy-back payments awarded to employees for not using accrued sick leave were akin to non-discretionary bonuses that compensated them for fulfilling their general attendance duties. Id. at 979.
This interpretation has not been adopted by all courts. The Sixth Circuit, in a case cited by Defendants, has come to the opposite conclusion, holding simply that “awards for nonuse of sick leave are similar to payments made when no work is performed due to illness, which may be excluded from the regular rate [under 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(2) ].” Featsent v. City of Youngstown, 70 F.3d 900, 905 (6th Cir.1995). The First Circuit, for its part, has yet to weigh in on the issue.
Having considered all of the available authority, the court finds the reasoning of Acton persuasive. Here, as in Acton, firefighters must have worked for a period of time sufficient to accumulate a certain amount of leave in order to qualify for buy-back pay. Moreover, by its own terms, the CBA refers to its various sick leave buy-back provisions as “incentive days” and “sick leave buy back bonuses.” These facts militate toward the conclusion that sick leave buy-back payments provided for in the CBA are more akin to non-discretionary incentive bonuses includable under 29 C.F.R. 778.211(c) than remuneration for work that was never performed and therefore excludable under 207(e)(2). See 29 C.F.R. 778.211 (expressly including “[a]ttendance bonuses” in the regular rate of pay). It is also pertinent that this position has been adopted by the Department of Labor in a 2009 wage and hour opinion letter, 2009 DOLWH LEXIS 23 (DOLWH 2009). Finally, the court finds this position to be the most consistent with the First Circuit’s gloss on section 207(e), that its “exceptions are to be interpreted narrowly against the employer….” O’Brien, 350 F.3d at 294.
For these reasons, the court finds that sick leave buy-back pay is remuneration that must be included in the calculation of the FLSA regular rate of pay.
b. Off Duty/Detail pay.
In addition to their regular duties, some Plaintiffs perform additional outside work-referred to as “details” or “off-duty work”-that is assigned to them on a voluntary basis when they are not regularly scheduled to be on duty. The FLSA is clear that “special detail” compensation for hours worked on behalf of “separate and independent” employers is excludable from the calculation of FLSA overtime. 29 U.S.C. § 207(p). Department of Labor regulations specify that the hours worked for another entity will be exempt under § 207(p)(1)‘s special detail work exemption so long as (1) the special detail assignment is undertaken and performed solely at the employee’s option, and (2) the two employers are “in fact separate and independent.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.227(b). See also Nolan v. City of Chicago, 125 F.Supp.2d 324, 336 (N.D.Ill.2000).
Plaintiffs do not dispute that a Holyoke firefighter’s decision to perform off-duty detail work is purely voluntary. Their sole contention is that the outside vendors for whom they perform duty work are not, in fact, separate and independent because: (1) when firefighters perform duty work, they receive payment via their regular payroll check; (2) the amount of pay received by firefighters for detail work is non-negotiable (except by the Union during collective bargaining); (3) firefighters do not receive insurance benefits or retirement benefits, or worker’s compensation from the third-party vendors; and (4) firefighters are required to wear their uniforms while working detail or off duty.
Each of these assertions, however, is contrary to the applicable Department of Labor regulations which provide:
The primary employer may facilitate the employment or affect the conditions of employment of such employees. For example, a police department may maintain a roster of officers who wish to perform such work. The department may also select the officers for special details from a list of those wishing to participate, negotiate their pay, and retain a fee for administrative expenses. The department may require that the separate and independent employer pay the fee for such services directly to the department, and establish procedures for the officers to receive their pay for the special details through the agency’s payroll system. Finally, the department may require that the officers observe their normal standards of conduct during such details and take disciplinary action against those who fail to do so. 29 C.F.R. § 553.227(d) (emphasis added).
Accordingly, the FLSA does not require that Plaintiffs’ “detail” work be included in the calculation of the regular rate of pay.
c. Student Awareness of Fire Education (“SAFE”) Pay.
Some Holyoke firefighters receive pay for fire prevention and education duties performed under the grant-funded Student Awareness of Fire Education (“SAFE”) program. SAFE work performed while a firefighter is on regularly scheduled duty is compensated at the standard contractual rate of pay, while SAFE work performed outside of a firefighter’s regular duty cycle is compensated as overtime at one and one half times the contractual rate of pay. (Dkt. No. 157, Ex. D, LaFond Dep. 37: 8-18.
Here, to the degree that SAFE payments represent additional remuneration at all (i.e., to the degree that they are not already included in Plaintiffs’ regular pay), they are excludable from the regular rate under sections 207(e)(5) and (7) of the FLSA. Each of these provisions permits employers to exclude properly compensated overtime payments from the “regular rate” of pay under the FLSA. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(5) (excluding “extra compensation provided by a premium rate paid for certain hours … in excess of the employee’s normal working hours or regular working hours”); 29 U.S.C. § 207(e)(7) (excluding time and a half compensation “for work outside of the hours established in good faith by the contract or agreement as the basic, normal, or regular workday”). See also 29 C.F.R. 778.202. Because, as the record demonstrates, SAFE work performed outside of a firefighter’s regular duty cycle is already compensated as overtime, the FLSA does not require that Defendants include such time in the calculation of the FLSA’s regular rate of pay.”
Although the Court addressed issues that rarely come up in the context of FLSA litigation, its reliance on the general principle that any type of compensation not specifically excluded from calculating an employee’s regular rate under the FLSA must necessarily be included is instructive to employers who use any type of incentive or bonus pay.
Click Lemieux v. City of Holyoke to read the entire opinion.
7th Cir.: District Court Erred In Dismissing FLSA Claims; Court Was Required To Consider Most Efficient Way To Adjudicate Claims and Subclaims; Plaintiffs Have Right To Pursue Claims Individually
Alvarez v. City of Chicago
In this case a collective action had previously been consolidated with a multiple-Plaintiff non-collective action. Each of the Plaintiffs presented a variety of claims and between the hundreds of plaintiffs there were 10 different types of claims. The Court below granted the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment against all plaintiffs, reasoning that the plaintiffs were not similarly situated because each plaintiff raised a different combination of the ten subclaims, such that the plaintiffs could not be readily divided into homogenous subgroups. The district court also noted that arbitration pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, while not mandatory, might be a more efficient way to resolve the paramedics’ claims. The court did not reach the merits of the ten subclaims raised by the plaintiffs. Instead, it dismissed the claims of all plaintiffs, without prejudice, and directed them to pursue arbitration. The Seventh Circuit reversed however, noting that, the Court failed to consider the efficiency of adjudicating the claims as a collective action, and, that the named Plaintiffs in each of the consolidated cases had the right to proceed with their individual claims, regardless of whether they were similarly situated to the other class members.
The Court reasoned:
“The Fair Labor Standards Act gives employees the right to bring their FLSA claims through a “collective action” on behalf of themselves and other “similarly situated” employees. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (2006). A collective action is similar to, but distinct from, the typical class action brought pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. The principle difference is that plaintiffs who wish to be included in a collective action must affirmatively opt-in to the suit by filing a written consent with the court, while the typical class action includes all potential plaintiffs that meet the class definition and do not opt-out.
The City-and the district court’s opinion-relies heavily on our decision in Jonites v. Exelon Corp., 522 F.3d 721 (7th Cir.2008). In Jonites, we affirmed the dismissal of a collective action brought on behalf of more than a thousand lineman and other hourly workers employed by Commonwealth Edison. The Jonites plaintiffs alleged that two types of purportedly off-duty time were really compensable work. The first involved Com Ed’s “call-out” policy, which required off-duty workers to respond to at least 35% of the calls from their employer for additional manpower on an emergency basis. The frequency of these call-outs varied widely among workers; some were called as often as once every five and a half days on average, and others no more than once a month. The employees took the position that they were entitled to be paid for “some of the time” during which they were subject to call, with the amount to be determined by the trier of fact. The second challenge was to the lunch policy, which required workers at job sites to remain awake and be alert for trespassing and the theft of tools. However, only part of the class worked the daytime shift, to which the lunch policy applied. We held that as to both of these claims, the purported class was “hopelessly heterogenous” because liability would require significant individual fact-finding and many of the workers had no conceivable claim at all. Id. at 725-26. We further held that the individual plaintiffs must either file individual suits, create homogenous classes, or ask the union to file grievance proceedings under the collective bargaining agreement. Id. at 726. Because the purported class here is made up of plaintiffs who each have a different combination of subclaims, defendants argue that it is similarly heterogenous and was properly dismissed in favor of arbitration.
Appellants argue that this case is different from Jonites because the plaintiffs here appear to be similarly situated with regard to individual subclaims, but are heterogenous only because there are several different combinations of those subclaims. For example, whether any given paramedic is entitled to recover on the uniform pay theory depends on the legal question of whether such pay should have been included in the base rate, and the simple factual question of whether the particular paramedic received uniform pay. Instead of dismissing their claims as heterogenous, plaintiffs argue, the district court should have allowed them to split their claims into homogenous subclasses. See, e.g., Fravel v. County of Lake, No. 2:07-cv-253, 2008 WL 2704744 (N.D.Ind. July 7, 2008) (allowing plaintiffs to proceed collectively and grouping the plaintiffs into four distinct subclasses depending on which theory of liability applied to them). Plaintiffs suggest that here, as in Fravel, “[r]esolving common questions as a class, even through the additional mechanism of sub-classes, remains inherently more efficient” than splitting the action into four separate collective actions or allowing individual claims by each plaintiff. Id. at *3.
The district court appeared to agree with the plaintiffs’ characterization of their subclaims, noting that the City’s liability to any particular plaintiff on any given subclaim turns only upon a single uniform policy and whether that policy impacted that particular plaintiff. However, the district court refused to adopt the Fravel approach, concluding that the number of subclaims made the plaintiffs “hopelessly heterogenous” and that arbitration would be more efficient.
A district court has wide discretion to manage collective actions. See Hoffmann-La Roche v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 171 (1989). However, it appears that here the district court may have mistakenly read Jonites to forbid it from adopting a subclaim approach merely because the variety of subclaims renders the class “heterogenous.” The problem with the Jonites class, however, was not that the plaintiffs had different subclaims, but rather that determining whether any given plaintiff had a viable claim depended on a detailed, fact-specific inquiry, and many plaintiffs lacked any conceivably viable claim altogether. Jonites, 522 F.3d at 723, 725-26; see also Mooney v. Aramco Services Co., 54 F.3d 1207, 1214-15 (5th Cir.1995), overruled on other grounds by Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90 (2003) (affirming decertification of collective action where employees who brought ADEA claim were subject to “vastly disparate employment situations” and defense was likely to center on purported reasonable factors other than age specific to each employee). If common questions predominate, the plaintiffs may be similarly situated even though the recovery of any given plaintiff may be determined by only a subset of those common questions.
Similarly, the district court mistakenly compared the efficiency of proceeding through subclaims only to the perceived efficiency of arbitration. Plaintiffs have the right to proceed individually and may be able to form more tailored classes. See Jonites, 522 F.3d at 725 (noting that a collective bargaining agreement cannot preempt or waive a worker’s right to a judicial remedy for FLSA violations). Thus, if it appears plaintiffs are prepared to proceed individually or through separate classes, the district court must consider whether these other mechanisms for judicial resolution of their claims are more or less efficient than a collective action comprised of various subclaims. Cf. Fravel, supra. In Jonites, the circumstances suggested that plaintiffs had “no stomach for proceeding case by case.” Id. at 726. Here, the twelve Caraballo plaintiffs filed their complaint as individuals and moved for summary judgment as individuals. Indeed, there is nothing apparent from the record to indicate that the fifty-four named plaintiffs in Alvarez were unwilling to proceed individually. Yet the district court dismissed their claims in favor of arbitration without considering whether it was better to address sixty-five individual claims or one collective action comprised of ten subclaims.
Finally, the district court erred when it dismissed the claims of the named plaintiffs. When a collective action is decertified, it reverts to one or more individual actions on behalf of the named plaintiffs. See Hipp v. Liberty Nat’l Life Ins. Co., 252 F.3d 1208, 1218 (11th Cir.2001) (citing Mooney, 54 F.3d at 1213-14); see also Fox v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 519 F.3d 1298, 1301 (11th Cir .2008) (affirming decertification of an FLSA collective action, dismissal of the opt-in plaintiffs, and severance of each of the named plaintiffs into separate individual actions). Defendants do not argue that arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement preempts litigating these issues in federal court. Plaintiffs are entitled, at minimum, to pursue their claims individually. Whether they are permitted to do so in one action or several is committed to the sound discretion of the district court, but misjoinder of parties is never a ground for dismissing an action. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. We therefore reverse the district court’s dismissal of the named plaintiffs’ claims in both the Alvarez and Caraballo actions.
Sifting through the subclaims of each of the myriad plaintiffs is an unenviable task. But plaintiffs are nonetheless entitled to their day in court. Moreover, it appears that here, common questions predominate with regard to each theory of liability. The parties have already filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the merits of these common questions. After the district court determines the validity of these subclaims, calculation of each plaintiff’s award (if any) will be largely mechanical. On remand, given that the claims of the named plaintiffs will still be before it, the district court should consider whether a collective action might be the most efficient judicial resolution of this matter after all.”
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D.Colo.: Time Spent By Police Officers Donning And Doffing Their Uniforms And Equipment Is Compensable, Because It Is Integral And Indispensable To Their Police Duties
Rogers v. City and County of Denver
This case was before the Court on the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs made several claims for unpaid wages based on a variety of “off-the-clock” claims. Although the Court denied the parties’ motions with respect to most of the claims–either because the record was not fully developed, or because there were issues of fact–it held that the donning and doffing of uniforms and equipment by certain officers was compensable time.
“The first claim seeks compensation for time spent putting on and taking off the police uniform and equipment required for conducting police activity. For convenience of analysis, this claim is considered as it applies to patrol officers. The DPD Operations Manual prescribes the basic uniform to be worn on duty. It consists of a uniform shirt, uniform trousers, trouser belt, socks and authorized footwear. (DPD Op. Manual § 111.02.) A uniformed officer is generally required to carry a metal badge and nameplate, current DPD identification card, a valid Colorado driver’s license, and a standard uniform belt (“duty belt”) containing an authorized holster and firearm, ammunition case and ammunition, handcuffs and handcuff case, department issued tear gas and holder, flashlight, baton ring and belt “keepers.” (Id. § 111.03.) Uniformed officers are not required to wear basic hats or reflective apparel or carry batons, but officers must have those items available at all times. (Id. §§ 111.02(1), 111.02(12) & 111.03(13)). The Operations Manual describes particular situations in which basic hats and reflective apparel must be worn. The wearing of ballistic vests is encouraged, but not required. (Id. § 111.05(2)(e)).
The DPD does not require that donning and doffing the basic uniform take place at the assigned work station. Some district headquarters have storage lockers and rooms available for use at the officer’s individual choice. Some district buildings are too small and the officers must report in full uniform. The City argues that the option to put on and take off the uniform at home or elsewhere distinguishes this case from precedents established in the context of the meat industry and other hazardous occupations.
The option to change away from the duty station is not determinative. The principal activity of the patrol officers is policing the community. The police uniform is not “clothing” in any ordinary sense. It is the visible sign of authority and an essential element of the officer’s ability to command compliance with his commands and directives. It is analogous to the judicial robe. The uniform includes the equipment that are the tools that enable the officer to use physical force, including deadly force, for the protection of himself and others as circumstances require.
The City argues that the Plaintiffs’ clothes changing activities are excluded from compensation under 29 U.S.C. § 203(o). That section provides:
Hours Worked.-In determining for the purposes of sections 206 and 207 of this title the hours for which an employee is employed, there shall be excluded any time spent in changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday which was excluded from measured working time during the week involved by the express terms of or by custom or practice under a bona fide collective-bargaining agreement applicable to the particular employee.
CBAs between the City and the Denver Police Protective Association have been in effect since January 1, 1996. DPD officers have never been compensated for donning and doffing their uniforms and personal equipment. The City contends that this history of non-compensation shows an established custom or practice under the CBAs.
That argument is not persuasive. Silence in collective bargaining is not the equivalent of a custom or practice of non-compensability.
In December 1985, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a Wage and Hour Opinion Letter, stating that the time spent by a uniformed police officer donning and doffing the required uniform was not compensable time under the FLSA, where a collective bargaining agreement between a city and the union had no express provision regarding the compensability of clothes-changing time and there had been no custom or practice between the parties to consider such clothes changing time compensable. Wage & Hour Opinion Letter, Dec. 30, 1985, 1985 WL 1087351, Def.’s Ex. A-98. That opinion letter is not persuasive, but may be considered with respect to the issue of willfulness. Similarly, Wage & Hour Advisory Memorandum No.2006-2 dated May 31, 2006 (opining that changing into gear is not a principal activity if employees have the option and the ability to change at home) is relevant only to the issue of willfulness.
The judicially-created de minimis rule provides an exception to the FLSA’s requirement that all work be compensated. There are genuine issues of material fact regarding the time and effort required to don and doff the DPD uniform and protective gear. The City’s de minimis defense is a factual issue for trial.
While donning and doffing the patrol officers uniform and equipment is compensable time under the FLSA as activity that is integral and indispensable to their police duties, the continuous work day does not begin or end with that activity. The plaintiffs are not asking for time spent commuting for those officers who chose to change at home. This ruling is applicable only to the uniformed officers on official duty. The facts concerning wearing uniforms and equipment during secondary employment are not adequately presented in the papers filed. Similarly there is no clear evidentiary record concerning detectives and other non-uniformed officers.”
This decision appears to be in direct conflict with the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision discussed here, which held that time spent donning and doffing police uniforms and equipment was not compensable, because officers had the option of doing it at home.
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11th Cir.: “Dual Assignment” Regulation Still In Full Affect; Whether An Employee With Police And Fire Duties Is Entitled To Overtime Based On Which Duties Take Up Majority Of Working Time
Cremeens v. City of Montgomery
The Appellants, fire investigators for the City of Montgomery’s fire department, appealed the dismissal via summary judgment of their collective action seeking overtime pay from the city. Their appeal raised the question of the continuing validity of the Department of Labor’s dual assignment regulation, which addresses overtime for firefighters who perform law enforcement duties. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the regulation remains valid and therefore, reversed the judgment of the district court.
In addition to describing the Plaintiff’s firefighting duties and fire suppression training, the Court explained that, “Fire investigators investigate fires involving loss of life, arson and other crimes, and multiple fire alarms. They gather physical evidence, interview witnesses, interrogate suspects, and testify in court. They have the power to make arrests without first calling the Montgomery police department. Candidates for the job of fire investigator must graduate from state and national fire investigation academies; graduate from the Montgomery police academy; and be certified by the state as a peace officer. Candidates also must pass continuing education and firearms qualifications.” Thus, the record demonstrated that Plaintiffs perform both police duties and firefighting duties.
Reasoning that the “Dual Assignment” Rule continued in full effect, notwithstanding the revised definition of those engaged in firefighting duties (and thus exempt), the Court explained:
“Similarly, because the plain language of the dual assignment regulation does not purport to alter § 203(y)’s definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities, it skirts the province of § 203(y) and does not conflict with it. The simpler reading of the dual assignment regulation is that it dictates how to apply the overtime rules to those employees who have already satisfied the definitions both for fire protection and law enforcement. The dual assignment regulation does no defining. It is fair to say that while § 203(y) defines, the dual assignment regulation applies.
This analysis explains why our well-reasoned precedents in Huff and Gonzalez do not control here. For one, neither of those cases addressed the dual assignment regulation. Rather, those cases held that the regulatory definition of fire protection activities and the 80/20 rule by their texts purported to alter § 203(y)’s definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities. The 80/20 rule stated, after all, that “[a] person who spends more than 20 percent of his/her working time in nonexempt activities is not considered to be an employee engaged in fire protection or law enforcement activities for purposes of this part.” 29 C.F.R. § 553.212(a) (emphasis added). Therefore the regulations had to yield to the statute, and were deemed obsolete. And lastly, the analysis in Huff and Gonzalez centered on whether the plaintiffs there satisfied § 203(y)’s requirement for a “responsibility” to fight fires. Here, the plaintiffs have already conceded § 203(y) applies to them.
The city nevertheless urges us to apply a broader interpretation of Huff and Gonzalez to this case-to conclude that § 203(y) mandates, without exception, firefighter overtime for anyone who fits the statute’s definition of firefighter. The city argues that the dual assignment regulation must fall because it creates an exception to § 203(y). It essentially claims that what the 80/20 regulation did through its text, the dual assignment regulation does in its effect. Therefore, concludes the city’s argument, the dual assignment regulation poses a “direct conflict” to the operation of § 203(y). The district court adopted this line of reasoning, concluding that 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(b) “further refined” § 203(y)’s definition of an employee in fire protection activities in the same way the 80/20 rule did. Mem. Op. and Order 12. The district court concluded that the dual assignment regulation posed an “inherent conflict” with § 203(y). Id. 13.
We find no conflict between § 203(y) and the dual assignment regulation, and we reject the broader reading of Huff and Gonzalez that the city urges. The plain words of the regulation create no problematic interaction with the statute, in the way the regulations at issue in Huff and Gonzalez did. Therefore those cases do not control the outcome here.
We also note that in order to effectuate the FLSA, Congress, in passing § 203(y), clearly relied on the existence and operation of numerous pre-existing DOL regulations. One such regulation, by way of example, is regulation 29 C.F.R. § 553.230, which specifies the numerical overtime ceilings for firefighters and law enforcement employees. It is not unreasonable to conclude that Congress, in passing § 203(y), was also aware of the dual assignment regulation, implicitly relied on it, and thereby ratified its continuing application.
One last issue bears addressing. The district court identified a second ground for finding the dual assignment regulation obsolete: the dual assignment regulation invokes the obsolete regulations for fire protection activities and the 80/20 rule. However, we do not find such citation, by itself, disabling. Rather, it is easy to read the dual assignment regulation as importing and applying § 203(y)’s updated statutory definition of an employee in fire protection activities as seamlessly as it once applied the now-obsolete regulatory definition. And, the mention of the 80/20 rule in 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(a) has no bearing on the operation of the dual assignment provision in 29 C.F.R. § 553.213(b).”
Thus, the Court held that the “dual assignment” regulation, which provides that, when public employee qualifies both as fire protection and law enforcement personnel, he receives overtime according to rules for activity that takes up majority of his working time, was not definitional and did not conflict with updated statutory definition of “[e]mployee in fire protection activities,” so as not to be rendered obsolete by amendment of statute.
The full opinion is available at Cremeens v. City of Montgomery.
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.
1st Cir.: Municipality Need Not Give Notice To Its Public Safety Officers Before The Municipality Takes Advantage Of 29 U.S.C. § 207(k); Notice Not A Prerequisite To Application Of Public Safety Exemption
Calvao v. Town Of Framingham
Plaintiffs are police officers of the Town of Framingham who brought a putative class action suit against the Town in April 2005, alleging that the Town had failed to pay them sufficient overtime in violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201–19, and seeking damages. In anticipation of the Town’s defense, the officers sought a declaratory judgment that the Town was ineligible for the FLSA’s limited public safety exemption from overtime, 29 U.S.C. § 207(k), because the Town failed to adequately put them on notice of its intent to use 207(k), an exemption eases the FLSA’s overtime pay requirements on public employers who establish work schedules that meet statutory requirements. Affirming the decision of the Court below, the First Circuit held that a Town seeking to utilize 207(k) need not put its public safety employees on formal notice beforehand.
Initially, the Court discussed the legal background of the so-called “Public Safety Exemption” as follows:
“The history and scope of the FLSA public safety exemption set the background. “Congress enacted the FLSA in 1938 to establish nationwide minimum wage and maximum hours standards.” Moreau v. Klevenhagen, 508 U.S. 22, 25 (1993); Ellen C. Kearns et al., The Fair Labor Standards Act § 1.III, at 12-13 (1999). Later amendments in 1966 and 1974 extended the Act’s reach to state and municipal employers. See Moreau, 508 U.S. at 25-26. Despite congressional efforts to mitigate the effect of these amendments on municipal coffers, e.g., Kearns et al., supra § 11.V.B., at 687, the amendments triggered protracted litigation, as state and local public employers mounted constitutional challenges to the FLSA’s regulation of state-employer compensation schemes. See Moreau, 508 U.S. at 26 & n. 6 (collecting cases). In part, the employers were successful. See Nat’l League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, 851-52 (1976) (invalidating 1974 amendments to the FLSA to the extent that they “impermissibly interfere[d] with the integral governmental functions” of states and municipalities).
In February 1985, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’s power under the FLSA to regulate the payments due to state and local employees. See Garcia v. San Antonio Metro. Transit Auth., 469 U.S. 528 (1985). State and municipal authorities reacted with “grave concern” to the decision, due in part to “[t]he projected ‘financial costs of coming into compliance with the FLSA-particularly the overtime provisions.’ “ Moreau, 508 U.S. at 26 (quoting S.Rep. No. 99-159, at 8 (1985)).
In response, both the House and Senate held hearings on the issue “and considered legislation designed to ameliorate the burdens associated with necessary changes in public employment practice.” Id. Congress ultimately enacted several provisions designed to allay public employers’ fears and contain costs. See, e.g., id. Congress also delayed enforcement of the FLSA against state and local employers until April 15, 1986, to give them time to comply with the Act’s amended requirements. See Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1985, Pub.L. No. 99-150, § 2(c), 99 Stat. 787, 788-89.
Section 207(k) was originally passed in 1974. The provision created a partial FLSA exemption for law enforcement and fire protection personnel (“public safety personnel”). See29 U.S.C. § 207(k). When Garcia held the FLSA applied to municipal employees, § 207(k) became very important to municipalities. See Martin v. Coventry Fire Dist., 981 F.2d 1358, 1361 (1st Cir.1992).
Under the FLSA, employees other than public safety personnel are generally entitled to payment “at a rate not less than one and one-half times” their regular wages for any time worked in excess of forty hours in a seven day period. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). However, the partial exemption in § 207(k) set a higher threshold number of hours that public safety personnel can work in a twenty-eight day work period-or a proportional number of hours in a shorter work period of at least seven days-before these employees become entitled to overtime compensation. See id. § 207(k).”
After discussing the elements of the 207(k) exemption in detail, the Court addressed the pointed issue in the case, holding that formal notice of the imposition of a 207(k) work schedule is not an element required for a municipality to reap its benefits. The Court reasoned, “Plaintiffs assert that the Town was required to give affected employees notice in order to establish a § 207(k) work period and qualify for the public safety exemption. Plaintiffs’ claim raises an issue of statutory interpretation and is before us on summary judgment. For both of these reasons, our review is de novo. See Chiang v. Verizon New England Inc., No. 09-1214, 2010 WL 431873, at *5 (1st Cir. Feb. 9, 2010). “We may affirm the district court on any basis apparent in the record.” Id.
We reject plaintiffs’ argument in light of § 207(k)‘s text and history, as well as the interpretive guidance given by the Department of Labor in its regulations. On the undisputed facts, the Town’s actions were sufficient to establish a qualifying work period, despite the asserted lack of notice to its employees. Summary judgment was appropriate.
We start with the statutory text. The text of § 207(k) does not specify that a public employer is required to establish a work period or identify how an employer might do so. Further, the text contains no requirement of notice to the affected employee. 29 U.S.C. § 207(k).
The Town points to related legislative history. Congress explicitly rejected a proposal mandating employee agreement before a § 207(k) work period could be established. Barefield v. Vill. of Winnetka, 81 F.3d 704, 710 (7th Cir.1996) (citing H.R.Rep. No. 953, 93d Cong., 2d Sess. (1974) (Conf.Rep.)); see also Agawam, 350 F.3d at 291 (noting that “employees’ approval is not required” under § 207(k)). The Town argues this is indicative that not only was no agreement required but no notice was required. This reading is consistent with Congress’s goal of “ensur[ing] that public agencies would not be unduly burdened by the FLSA’s overtime requirements.” Kearns et al., supra § 11.V.B., at 687; see alsoH.R. Rep. 93-913, at 2837-38 (1974) (describing the House’s original version of § 207(k), which provided for a complete overtime exemption for public safety personnel to help ensure that the FLSA would have a “virtually non-existent” impact on state and local governments).
It is true that § 207(k)‘s text does not prohibit giving notice either. However, Congress expressly delegated responsibility for implementing the statute to the Secretary of Labor, see Moreau, 508 U.S. at 27 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 203), who, after notice and comment, promulgated regulations, see52 Fed.Reg.2012;51 Fed.Reg. 13402 (Apr. 18, 1986). These regulations make it clear the Secretary rejected a notice requirement under § 207(k). Under these circumstances, “Congress clearly ‘expect[ed] the agency to be able to speak with the force of law,’ “ and we “must defer to the regulations’ resolution of a statutory ambiguity, so long as it is ‘reasonable.’ “ Rucker v. Lee Holding Co., 471 F.3d 6, 11 (1st Cir.2006) (quoting United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 229 (2001)).
During rulemaking, the Secretary of Labor reviewed and rejected a proposal to impose a notice requirement for § 207(k). 52 Fed.Reg. at 2024-25. The Secretary observed that unlike other sections of the FLSA, which “require [ ] that there be an agreement or understanding concerning compensatory time prior to the performance of work, there is no requirement in the Act that an employer formally state its intention or obtain an agreement in advance to pay employees under section 7(k).” Id. at 2025 (emphasis added).
The resulting regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 553.224, plainly rejected both a requirement that municipalities make a formal statement of intention and a requirement that they obtain agreement. The regulation explains that “any established and regularly recurring period of work which, under the terms of the Act and legislative history, cannot be less than 7 consecutive days nor more than 28 consecutive days” suffices as a work period, noting that “[e]xcept for this limitation, the work period can be of any length, and it need not coincide with the duty cycle or pay period or with a particular day of the week or hour of the day.” Id. § 553.224(a).
Section 553.224‘s reference to an “established” work period is the foundation of plaintiffs’ claim that an employer must provide notice to employees to set up a § 207(k) work period. But § 553.224 includes no procedural steps of any kind, let alone a notice requirement.
Our caselaw reflects in dicta the Secretary’s interpretation that federal law in § 207(k) does not require notice to the affected employee, see Agawam, 350 F.3d at 291;see also id. at 291 n .21 (“The work period requirement is ordinarily not a high hurdle.”), as does the law in other circuits to have considered the issue, see Milner, 165 F.3d at 1223 (per curiam) (“[T]he [§ 207(k) ] exemption need not be established by public declaration.”); Spradling v. City of Tulsa, 95 F.3d 1492, 1505 (10th Cir.1996) (“[A] public employer may establish a 7(k) work period even without making a public declaration, as long as its employees actually work a regularly recurring cycle of between 7 and 28 days.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Barefield, 81 F.3d at 710 (finding a municipal employer entitled to § 207(k) exemption, even though the work schedule at issue predated the enactment of the provision and the employer “made no declaration of intent to come under Section 7(k)”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Here, the Town has used a § 207(k)-compliant work period at all relevant times. The Town’s memo of April 11, 1986, shows that its “4-2” and “5-3” work cycles are component parts of a fixed, recurring twenty-four day work period. Cf. Agawam, 350 F.3d at 291 (rejecting public employer’s claim to the § 207(k) exemption when the employer used six-day work cycles and could “not point to a single statement or document indicating that it adopted a work period longer than six days”). Both of these schedules are consistent with the identified work period, as both divide evenly into a twenty-four day period. See Avery, 24 F.3d at 1344 (holding that a “five days on, two days off duty cycle, repeated four times” constitutes a “valid twenty-eight day work period”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Additional memoranda discussing the FLSA’s imminent effective date and expressing the Town’s intention to take advantage of the public safety exemption further support this conclusion.
Plaintiffs do not directly challenge the regulatory framework outlined above. They instead urge that a subsequent letter ruling by an administrator at the Department of Labor mandates a notice requirement and is entitled to deference by this court under Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 461 (1988), or Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 140 (1944). That argument was not properly presented to the district court and is waived. E.g., McCoy v. Mass. Inst. of Tech., 950 F.2d 13, 22 (1st Cir.1991). We nonetheless address the claim to ensure clarity on this point of law, and we reject plaintiffs’ assertion for three distinct reasons.
First, the administrator’s letter ruling made no mention of a notice requirement. It said only that “[a]n employer must designate or otherwise objectively establish the work period … and pay the affected employees in accordance with its provisions.” Dep’t of Labor Ltr. Rul. FLSA-1374 (Jan. 3, 1994). The letter’s emphasis on “objectively establish[ing]” a work period is not inconsistent with 29 C.F.R. § 553.224. To the contrary, it merely paraphrases the regulation’s requirement that employers make use of an “established and regularly recurring period of work,” id. § 553.224(a), in order to claim the benefits of the exemption.
Second, the letter responded to an inquiry regarding a specific decision by this court, Martin v. Coventry Fire Dist., 981 F.2d 1358 (1st Cir.1992), which addressed different issues. When responding to the inquiry, the administrator plainly stated that the letter ruling was “based exclusively on the facts and circumstances” presented. Dep’t of Labor Ltr. Rul. FLSA-1374. The letter is irrelevant to plaintiffs’ present argument.
Finally, “[i]nterpretations such as those in opinion letters … do not warrant Chevron-style deference.” Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576, 587 (2000). To the contrary, such letters “are ‘entitled to respect’ … only to the extent that th[eir] interpretations have the ‘power to persuade.’ “ Id. (quoting Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140). Here, the Secretary of Labor explicitly rejected the very position that plaintiffs ascribe to the administrator’s letter, stating clearly during rulemaking that employers need not formally declare their intentions to pay employees under § 207(k). 52 Fed.Reg. at 2024-25. Even if plaintiffs’ reading of the letter were accurate, the letter’s inconsistency with the Secretary’s earlier pronouncement would render it unpersuasive. See Skidmore, 323 U.S. at 140.”
Thus, the Court concluded, “Plaintiffs’ argument fails. The Town was not required to notify plaintiffs that it had established a § 207(k) work period. Summary judgment was appropriately granted.”
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.
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.”
7th Cir.: In Order To Pay Proper “Comp Time” Under 553.25(d), A Worker Proposes A Date And Time For Leave. In The Absence Of Undue Disruption The Employer Must Grant Such Leave Or Violate 207(o)
Heitmann v. City of Chicago, Ill.
State and local governments are entitled to offer compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay, if employees agree to this procedure. 29 U.S.C. § 207( o ). See Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (2000). With the assent of the police officers’ union, Chicago has implemented a comp-time program. In this suit, some of the officers who have accumulated credits under the program contend that Chicago has made the leave too hard to use. A magistrate judge, presiding by the parties’ consent, agreed with plaintiffs and entered a detailed injunction specifying how Chicago must handle all future applications for compensatory leave. 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 67684 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 11, 2007) (decision on merits); 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 12983 (N.D.Ill. Feb. 21, 2008) (injunction).
An employee of a public agency which is a State, political subdivision of a State, or an interstate governmental agency-
(A) who has accrued compensatory time off authorized to be provided under paragraph (1), and
(B) who has requested the use of such compensatory time,
shall be permitted by the employee’s employer to use such time within a reasonable period after making the request if the use of the compensatory time does not unduly disrupt the operations of the public agency.
Plaintiffs say that a need to consider “undue disruption” supposes a particular time, so that employees are entitled to leave on a date and time of their own choosing, unless this would mean that too few police officers remained available for service. Chicago reads the language to mean that the Police Department, rather than the officer, gets to name the date and time for leave. Officers may submit requests; all the Department need do is offer some leave within a “reasonable time” of the request. The only effective restraint, in the City’s view, is that officers may not accumulate more than 480 hours of leave. Compensatory time is granted whenever an officer works more than 171 hours in any 28-day period. (Ninety minutes of comp time are awarded for each extra hour worked.) Once any given officer accumulates more than 480 hours, future overtime must be paid in cash. As long as it keeps the balance below 480 hours per officer, the City submits, it gets to call the shots about when the leave may be used.
After the parties collected extensive evidence, the magistrate judge found it undisputed that the Police Department does not have any policy about how and when leave may be used; decisions are left to each watch commander or shift supervisor. Most commanders or supervisors, most of the time, grant or reject applications for leave on a specific day without giving reasons. They do not attempt to get a substitute for a person who wants time off; instead they ask whether the shift or unit still would have enough personnel if leave were granted and no other change were made. If an application is granted, the supervisor or commander may or may not give the officer the date and time requested. If the application is denied, it is not put in a queue for use at the next time when leave would not “unduly disrupt” operations; instead the application is returned to the officer, who is told to apply again-but without any guidance about when leave could be made available without undue disruption. The Department does not keep records of requests for compensatory leave, so we do not know how often officers get to take time off on the dates they request, or even how many times they must apply (on average) to have any leave granted.
The magistrate judge concluded that these informal procedures fail to ensure that each worker gets to use leave within a reasonable time, and do no ensure that officers get their choice of dates for leave unless undue disruption would ensue. He issued an injunction to supply the rules he thought needed. The 7th Circuit determined that the Magistrate below made a misstep by ordering injunctive rather than monetary relief.
The 7th Circuit agreed, holding, “[u]nder § 553.25(d), a worker proposes a date and time for leave. The employer decides whether time off then would cause undue disruption, and if it would the employer has a reasonable time to grant leave on some other date. On Chicago’s view, the employee cannot ask for a particular date or time, but only for some leave; and if any time off within a reasonable time after the request would cause undue disruption, then the employee must wait longer-must wait, by definition, for an un reasonable time. That can’t be right. Chicago’s view produces an implausible relation between the “reasonable time” and “undue disruption” clauses. The regulation makes sense when specifying that the employer must ask whether leave on the date and time requested would produce undue disruption, and only if the answer is yes may the employer defer the leave-and then only for a “reasonable time.””
Noting that their were amendments to 553.25(d) pending which may change the outcome of the case, the Court stated, “[b]ecause § 207( o )(5) is ambiguous, the agency enjoys leeway in crafting regulations. Last year the Department of Labor proposed to amend 29 C.F.R. § 553.25(c) and (d) so that employees could no longer designate the date and time for leave. 73 Fed.Reg. 43654, 43660-62, 43668 (July 28, 2008). That rulemaking remains open, however. As long as the current version of § 553.25 remains in force, the plaintiffs are entitled to prevail.”