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C.D.A.C.: Court Declines to Adopt “Economic Reality” Test and Confirms Prisoners Are Not Covered by FLSA
Shipley v. Woolrich, Inc.
This case was before the court on plaintiff’s appeal of an order dismissing his FLSA case below, based on the fact that, as a federal prisoner, he was not an employee subject to FLSA coverage. The district court sua sponte dismissed the complaint, relying on the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Henthorn v. Dep’t of the Navy, 29 F.3d 682, 686 (D.C . Cir.1994), in which they noted that convicted criminals are not protected by the Thirteenth Amendment against involuntary servitude and that a prisoner is barred from asserting a claim under the FLSA where the prisoner’s labor is compelled and/or where any compensation he receives is set and paid by his custodian.
On appeal the plaintiff argued that the court should adopt an “economic reality” test based on whether the labor in question involves a “service,” such as the janitorial chores performed in Henthorn, or rather involves a “good,” such as the making of clothes performed by the plaintiff.
Rejecting this argument, the court reasoned:
“In Henthorn the appellant asked us to adopt a somewhat similar “economic reality” test that would have made a distinction, for purposes of applying the FLSA, between work inside or outside the prison compound. We declined the request, holding instead that a prerequisite to finding that an inmate is covered “under the FLSA is that the prisoner has freely contracted with a non-prison employer to sell his labor.” 29 F.3d at 686. Here we likewise reject Shipley’s request and follow our holding in Henthorn.
In Henthorn we stated that at the pleading stage “a federal prisoner seeking to state a claim under the FLSA must allege that his work was performed without legal compulsion and that his compensation was set and paid by a source other than the Bureau of Prisons itself.” Id. at 687. Here, Shipley has made no allegation that his work was voluntary or that he was paid by anyone other than UNICOR, an entity within the organizational structure of the Bureau of Prisons.”
While the court made clear that work performed for a private entity may sometimes qualify a prisoner as an “employee” subject to the FLSA coverage, such facts were not present here.
Click Shipley v. Woolrich, Inc. to read the entire Opinion.
Shipley, Jr. v. Woolrich, Inc.
Plaintiff, a prisoner in the Federal prison system, filed a Complaint seeking minimum wages under the FLSA. Citing the longstanding caselaw from around the country, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s Complaint, because it failed to state a cause of action. Discussing Plaintiff’s lack of 13th Amendment rights or that under the FLSA, the Court stated:
“It is well-settled that the Thirteenth Amendment’s protection against involuntary servitude does not extend to prisoners who are required to perform work at little or no pay. To the contrary, the Thirteenth Amendment clearly excepts involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime after conviction: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” U.S. Const., amend. XIII, § 1. “Convicted criminals … are not protected by the Thirteenth Amendment against involuntary servitude.” Henthorn v. Dep’t of the Navy, 29 F.3d 682, 686 (1994); see also Vanskike v. Peters, 974 F.2d 806 (7th Cir.1992) (stating that prison work assignments are part of the inmates’ sentences of incarceration). Furthermore, “where the inmate’s labor is compelled and/or where any compensation he receives is set and paid by his custodian, the prisoner is barred from asserting a claim for minimum wage under the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act.].” Henthorn v. Dep’t of the Navy, 29 F.3d 682, 686 (1994); see also Sanders v. Hayden, 544 F.3d 812, 814 (7th Cir.2008) ( “Prison and jail inmates are not covered by the FLSA.”).”