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E.D.Pa.: For Application of Computer Exemption, Hourly Rate Must Be Measured Hour-by-Hour, Not On A Weekly Average Basis
This case was before the court on a variety of motions from all parties. As discussed here, the court was tasked with deciding how the hourly rate must be calculated for purposes of applying the computer exemption, where all parties agreed that the plaintiff was paid on an hourly not salary basis. Plaintiff’s primary contention was that the defendant misclassified him and other employees as exempt from the FLSA’a overtime provisions under 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(17) (the FLSA’s computer-employee exemption), and subsequently failed to pay them overtime compensation.
Describing the relevant factual background, the court explained:
Defendant maintains a variety of pay structures for its employees. The pay structures at issue are the “Professional Day” and “Professional Week” agreements, which apply only to employees who Defendant has classified as exempt under the FLSA’s computer-employee exemption. Under the “Professional Day” agreement, an employee “will not be paid for more than eight hours in a day, unless that employee works more than ten hours in a day. If the employee works more than ten hours in a day and the manager approves, the employee will be entitled to be paid an additional fee for services provided after the 11th hour.” Under the “Professional Week” plan, employees receive a set hourly rate for every hour worked up to forty hours per week, and receive no additional compensation for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 15–18) (alterations omitted). Defendant considers employees designated under either structure as exempt under § 213(a)(17).
Plaintiff Morgan Jones initially contacted Defendant through one of its recruiters, Robert Helsel. In July 2011, Defendant successfully placed Plaintiff in a position as Senior Project Manager with Citigroup. When Plaintiff started at Citigroup, he was classified by Defendant as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements under 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(17) and was subject to Defendant’s “Professional Day” pay plan. (Id. at ¶¶ 20, 27, 30–31, 51.)
Like Defendant’s other employees, Plaintiff was required to enter his daily hours into Defendant’s “EaZyTyme system,” an online-based time reporting system maintained and controlled by Defendant. In addition to reporting his time in EaZyTyme, Plaintiff also reported his work hours directly to Citigroup for purposes of effectuating payment from Citigroup to Defendant for Plaintiff’s work. During his placement with Citigroup, Plaintiff routinely worked over forty hours per week and occasionally over fifty hours per week. (Id. at ¶¶ 39–40, 46, 52.) Beginning on November 14, 2011, Plaintiff was taken out of the Professional Day structure and paid on an hourly basis. (Id. at ¶¶ 13–14, 56–57.)
(1) that the employee perform certain “primary duties”; and (2) that he be compensated at a rate of at least $27.63 an hour.
Framing the issue presented by the respective parties, the court stated:
Defendant asserts that it is entitled to judgment on the second criteria, reasoning that the requirement is met so long as an employee is paid an average hourly wage of $27.63 or more in a given workweek (hereinafter, “the workweek method”). Defendant explains that because it is undisputed that, in any given week, Plaintiff was always paid an average hourly wage well above $27.63, there is no dispute that the exemption’s $27.63 requirement is met. (Def.’s Br. in Support of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. 7–14.)
Plaintiff counters that the statute sets forth an hour-by-hour, rather than an averaging, approach, and thus computer employees must be paid at least $27.63 for each hour worked (hereinafter, “the hour-by-hour method”). Because Plaintiff was paid $0.00 for hours nine and ten while he was paid under the “Professional Day” structure, he argues that the exemption’s second requirement was not met and he was thus misclassified as exempt. (Pl.’s Br. in Opp’n to Mot. for Partial Summ. J. 9–12.)
Noting that the issue presented was one of first impression and susceptible to different interpretations, the court held:
With the above precepts in mind, and after examination of the statutory language, the Department of Labor regulations and the canons of construction applicable to FLSA exemptions, we conclude that an employee paid on an hourly basis may only be classified as exempt under 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(17) if that employee is compensated at least $27.63 for each and every hour he or she works
The court reasoned that the language in the exemption was not intended to merely mimic that of the minimum wage portions of the FLSA, but rather should be construed narrowly, as any other exemption should be:
We initially find that the statutory language is susceptible to different interpretations. Neither the FLSA nor the implementing regulations set forth a formula for determining whether an employee has received “not less than $27.63 an hour,” and both parties have presented plausible interpretations of the provision. That said, it appears that a more exact reading of the language is that it requires an employer to pay the requisite sum for each and every hour worked. Indeed, the language of the provision in question specifically refers to compensation on an “hourly basis,” and is silent regarding the use of a weekly or averaging basis.
Defendant argues we should treat the $27.63 hourly rate as a minimum wage provision, and points to Dove v. Coupe, 759 F.2d 167, 171–72 (D.C.Cir.1985), a case which allowed a minimum wage requirement to be met by looking at the average of hours worked. While we have carefully considered Dove, we decline to follow its holding, in part because that case focused on minimum wage requirements while the issue before us is Defendant’s exempting Plaintiff from overtime compensation.
Defendant also posits that applying the workweek standard effectuates congressional intent. Defendant asserts that the averaging approach ensures that the purpose of the minimum wage—the protection of “certain groups of the population from sub-standard wages … due to … unequal bargaining power,” Dove, 759 F.2d at 171 (quoting Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 706, 65 S.Ct. 895, 89 L.Ed. 1296 (1945) (internal quotation marks omitted))—is met. Defendant further argues that the Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division has adopted the workweek as the period for determining whether an employee has received wages at a rate not less than the statutory minimum, and that this interpretation of the statute is entitled to deference. (Def.’s Br. in Support of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. 8–10.) Again, Defendant’s arguments focus on minimum wage theories not at issue here.
We agree with Plaintiff’s view that, based on the allegations raised in this case, the $27.63 requirement is not a minimum wage test, but rather a compensation test for applicability of the exemption pertaining to overtime. Plaintiff correctly stresses that Defendant’s argument fails to recognize that his claims are for unpaid overtime under § 207, not for unpaid minimum wages under § 206, and that there is a significant distinction between those provisions. Section 206 is directed at providing a minimum standard of living while § 207 is concerned with deterring long hours by making those hours more expensive for the employer. In light of these two separate provisions, we conclude that Defendant’s reliance on minimum wage arguments and case law is misplaced. The fact that § 213(a) refers to both §§ 206 and 207 does not mean, as Defendant urges, that the overtime provisions of § 207 can be conflated with minimum wage principles.
The parties also dispute which construction of § 213(a)(17) best effectuates the purpose of the FLSA. Because neither legislative history nor the regulations clarify whether the computer-employee exemption’s $27.63 requirement is to be calculated on a weekly or hourly basis, our determination must necessarily rest on a construction that “best accords with the overall purposes of the statute.” United States v. Introcaso, 506 F.3d 260, 267 (3d Cir.2007) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff argues that the FLSA is remedial in nature, and thus should be construed liberally in favor of employees. He also notes that, in light of this remedial purpose, courts have consistently found that FLSA exemptions must be narrowly construed, that is, against the employer. (Pls.’ Br. in Opp’n to Mot. for Partial Summ. J. 9–10.) Defendant counters that, because the FLSA contains criminal penalties for violations of the minimum wage and overtime requirements, the rule of lenity dictates that a less harsh meaning should be applied in interpreting the computer-employee exemption. (Def.’s Br. in Support of Mot. for Partial Summ. J. 10–11.)
Courts are to apply the rule of lenity only if, “after considering text, structure, history, and purpose, there remains a ‘grievous ambiguity or uncertainty in the statute.’ ” Barber v. Thomas, 560 U.S. 474, 130 S.Ct. 2499, 2508–09, 177 L.Ed.2d 1 (2010) (quoting Muscarello v. United States, 524 U.S. 125, 139, 118 S.Ct. 1911, 141 L.Ed.2d 111 (1998)). In other words, the rule of lenity’s application is limited to instances in which a court “can make no more than a guess as to what Congress intended.” United States v. Wells, 519 U.S. 482, 499, 117 S.Ct. 921, 137 L.Ed.2d 107 (1997) (quoting Reno v. Koray, 515 U.S. 50, 65, 115 S.Ct. 2021, 132 L.Ed.2d 46 (1995) (internal quotation marks omitted)). That is not the case here.
While the relevant unit for determining compliance with the computer-employee exemption’s compensation requirement is less than clear, and appears to be a matter of first impression, the appropriate construction of FLSA exemptions is not. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that the FLSA must be construed liberally in favor of employees, and that statutory exemptions should thus be construed narrowly. Lawrence v. City of Phila., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir.2008) (citing Tony & Susan Alamo Found. v. Sec’y of Labor, 471 U.S. 290, 296, 105 S.Ct. 1953, 85 L.Ed.2d 278 (1985), Barrentine v. Arkansas–Best Freight Sys., Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739, 101 S.Ct. 1437, 67 L.Ed.2d 641 (1981) and Arnold v. Ben Kanowsky, Inc., 361 U.S. 388, 392, 80 S.Ct. 453, 4 L.Ed.2d 393 (1960)). Therefore, an employer seeking to apply an exemption to the FLSA must prove that the employee and/or employer comes ‘plainly and unmistakably’ within the exemption’s terms and spirit. Id. (quoting Arnold, 361 U.S. at 392) (emphasis omitted).
With the above canon of construction in mind, we conclude that the hour-by-hour approach advocated by Plaintiff best accords with the remedial nature of the FLSA. Exemptions are to be construed narrowly and their application must be established by the employer. Defendant has not persuaded us that the computer-employee exemption “plainly and unmistakably” applies. Nor has Defendant demonstrated that its proposed interpretation is required by the plain language of the provision, that the legislative history or regulations support its interpretation, or that the interpretation best accords with the purpose of the FLSA. Therefore, we find that, as a matter of law, the computer-employee exemption is applicable only where, assuming the primary duties test is met, an employee paid on an hourly basis receives compensation at a rate of $27.63 for each and every hour worked.
Applying this standard, we conclude that Plaintiff was misclassified as exempt under § 213(a)(17). Accordingly, we will deny Defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment with respect to this claim.
Click Jones v. Judge Technical Services, Inc. to read the entire Memorandum Opinion.
D.Mass.: FLSA Provides For “Gap Time” Claims Where Plaintiff Paid Nothing For Certain Hours, Notwithstanding Fact That Average Hourly Wage Exceeded Minimum Wage
Norceide v. Cambridge Health Alliance
This case was before the court on multiple motions. As discussed here, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ so-called “gap time” claims. The case is of significance because the court bucked the predominant trend, and- rather than accepting prior case law as gospel- examined the issue anew. In so doing, the court held that “gap time” claims are permissible under the FLSA.
Before we get to the court’s analysis though, it’s important to actually explain what gap time is. Gap time is comprised of non-overtime hours (their inclusion in an employee’s time in the workweek would not bring the employee above the 40 hour overtime threshold), typically worked off-the-clock. Because some employees have a sufficiently high hourly rate, when all hours (including those the employer failed to specifically pay the employee for) are divided into the renumeration paid to the employee in a given week, the resulting number can be higher than the minimum wage. The question then arises as to whether the FLSA only provides for an employee to receive minimum wage when all hours are divided into the weekly renumeration OR whether it requires an employee to be paid the minimum wage on an hourly basis for all such hours worked. These extra hours- which do not bring the average hourly wage below minimum rate- are referred to as “gap time.” Most courts have held that the FLSA does not provide for recovery of such “gap time” hours. However, this court disagreed.
Examining the issue, the court reasoned:
“According to CHA, Plaintiffs’ minimum wage claims should be dismissed because they do not allege that CHA ever paid them less than the operative minimum wage. Specifically, CHA argues that, if the total wages paid to any given plaintiff in a week were divided by the total hours worked in the week, then the average hourly wage would be greater than the minimum wage. For instance, suppose that one week Barbatine was scheduled to work 26 hours at a rate of $10.00 an hour and was paid accordingly, meaning she earned $260. However, in fact, she worked an additional 4 hours during her breaks and before/after her shifts and was not paid for this time. According to CHA, Barbatine has no claim for a minimum wage violation, since $260 divided by 30 hours is an average hourly wage of $8.67, which still exceeds the minimum wage.
In reality, Plaintiffs counter, Barbatine was being paid at a rate of $0 per hour for her additional 4 hours. CHA intended for its payment of $260 to cover her scheduled shifts and nothing more. Barbatine’s payment statement for the week in question on its face would indicate that she was getting paid for 26 hours of work, not 30. I agree with Plaintiffs.
The weekly average wage measuring rod that CHA argues should be utilized when assessing minimum wage violations stems from the Second Circuit’s decision in United States v. Klinghoffer Bros. Realty Corp., 285 F.2d 487 (2d Cir.1960). In that case, due to some financial difficulties their employer faced, security guard employees agreed to work an additional six hours per week but not be paid for this time until some later date. Id. at 489–90. The employer, however, never provided compensation for this extra work. The federal government charged the company with violating the FLSA. The Second Circuit dismissed the government’s minimum wage claim on the basis of the weekly average wage theory. Id. at 490. Articulating the purpose of the FLSA only as “guarantee [ing] a minimum livelihood to the employees,” the court found that “the Congressional purpose is accomplished so long as the total weekly wage paid by an employer meets the minimum weekly requirements of the statute, such minimum weekly requirement being equal to the number of hours actually worked that week multiplied by the minimum hourly statutory requirement.” Id. at 490 (citing H.R.Rep. No. 75–2738, at 28 (1938); Sen. Rep. No. 75–884, at 1–3 (1937); H.R.Rep. No. 75–1452, at 8–9 (1937)).
Since the court’s decision in 1960, several other circuits have adopted the Second Circuit’s approach—what has come to be known as the Klinghoffer rule. However, they have mostly done so by citing to Klinghoffer without any further analysis of whether, in fact, the weekly average rule effectuates the legislative intent of the FLSA’s minimum wage law. See, e.g., U.S. Dep’t of Labor v. Cole Enter., Inc., 62 F.3d 775, 780 (6th Cir.1995) (simply noting what “several courts have held”); Hensley v. MacMillan Bloedel Containers, Inc., 786 F.2d 353, 357 (8th Cir.1986) (citing to Klinghoffer without analysis); Blankenship v. Thurston Motor Lines, 415 F.2d 1193, 1198 (4th Cir.1969) (stating without explanation that Klinghoffer “contains a correct statement of the law”). The D.C. Circuit is a notable exception, accepting the weekly average wage rule in Dove v. Coupe only after its own analysis. 759 F.2d 167, 171–72 (D.C.Cir.1985). The First Circuit, however, has yet to address whether to use the hour-byhour or the Klinghoffer weekly average measure for evaluating minimum wage law compliance. In my view, as explained below, the Klinghoffer weekly average method ignores the plain language of the minimum wage provision and undermines the FLSA’s primary purpose of ensuring a fair wage for workers.
My review of the FLSA is guided by principles of statutory construction; my interpretation “depends upon reading the whole statutory text, considering the purpose and context of the statute, and consulting any precedents or authorities that inform the analysis.” Dolan v. Postal Service, 546 U.S. 481, 486, 126 S.Ct. 1252, 163 L.Ed.2d 1079 (2006).
I begin by looking to the language of the statute. See Kasten v. Saint–Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., ––– U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1325, 1331, 179 L.Ed.2d 379 (2011). The FLSA’s minimum wage provision mandates that an employer pay to each non-exempt employee “wages at the following rates: (1) except as other provided … not less than—(A) $5.85 an hour, beginning on the 60th day after May 25, 2007; (B) $6.55 an hour, beginning 12 months after that 60th day; and (C) $7.25 an hour, beginning 24 months after that 60th day.” 29 U.S.C. § 206(a). As the other courts to have considered this language concede, it speaks only of an hourly wage. Thus, while it is does not explicitly state how to calculate what an employee has been paid for a hour’s worth of work, the statute’s text is explicit that, with respect to the minimum wage, the only metric Congress envisioned was the hour, with each hour having its own discrete importance.
To be sure, other parts of the FLSA speak of a “workweek.” But, this unit of time is used for determining worker entitlement to other protections, most importantly overtime, not for assessing violations of the minimum wage law. See, e.g., 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(2) (“[N]o employer shall employ any of his employees who in any workweek is engaged in commerce … for a workweek longer than forty hours … unless such employee receives compensation for his employment in excess of the hours above specified at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate at which he is employed.”). In fact, the other provisions of the FLSA support the conclusion that, for the purpose of determining a minimum wage violation, the use of any unit of time other than an hour is a contrivance. When Congress meant to use the word “workweek” it did so. When it meant to use “hour” that was the word it used.
The FLSA’s legislative history does not explicitly address whether an hour-by-hour or weekly-average method should be employed when determining compliance with the minimum wage law. However, it does makes clear that Congress’ overriding riding purpose when enacting the FLSA was to ensure, as the bill’s name implies, fairness for workers. “The principal congressional purpose in enacting the [FLSA] was to protect all covered workers from substandard wages and oppressive working hours, ‘labor conditions [that are] detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being of workers.’ ” Barrentine v. Arkansas–Best Freight Sys. Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739, 101 S.Ct. 1437, 67 L.Ed.2d 641 (1981) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 202(a)). One way Congress attempted to effectuate this somewhat amorphous goal through the FLSA was by “guarantee[ing] a minimum livelihood to the employees covered by the Act,” Klinghoffer, 285 F.2d at 490 (citing H.R.Rep. No. 75–2738, at 28 (1938); Sen. Rep. No. 75–884, at 1–3 (1937); H.R.Rep. No. 75–1452, at 8–9 (1937)). While the Senate and House reports do not indicate whether Congress had in mind a formula for determining the amount necessary for “a minimum livelihood,” they do reveal that Congress considered the test to be whether a worker received “ ‘a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,’ ” Overnight Motor Transp. Co. v. Missel, 316 U.S. 572, 578, 62 S.Ct. 1216, 86 L.Ed. 1682 (1942) (quoting 81 Cong. Rec. 4983 (1937) (message of President Roosevelt)); see also Barrentine, 450 U.S. at 739.FN5
Congress’ primary concern with protecting worker—not employers—buttresses the above conclusion that the plain language of the minimum wage provision should be read as an endorsement of the hour-by-hour method. When a statute is susceptible to two opposing interpretations—here, the hour-by-hour and weekly average methods—it must be read “in the manner which effectuates rather than frustrates the major purpose of the legislative draftsmen.” Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 31–32, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 92 L.Ed. 1787 (1948). While the weekly method does ensure that workers earn a base amount after working a certain number of hours in a week, it frustrates the overall purpose of promoting fairness for workers.
Take the Barbatine example above. There, CHA intended for the $260 to compensate for only the 26 hours she was scheduled to work. CHA, therefore, got four free hours of work from Barbatine, while Barbatine received the same amount of compensation after working 30 hours as she would have for working 26 hours. Such a compensation scheme does promote not an environment in which a worker is ensured “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.’ ” See Travis, 41 F.Supp. at 9 (“[I]f the act is given a very strict construction[,] averaging is probably not permitted.”); see also Dove, 759 F.2d at 171.
Taken together, the plain language of the minimum wage provision, the remaining parts of the FLSA, and the Congress’ primary goal of protecting workers buttresses the conclusion that Congress intended for the hour-by-hour method to be used for determining a minimum wage violation. Here, Plaintiffs have alleged that CHA knew the Plaintiffs were working more hours than reported on their time sheet and that it was not compensating its employees for this time. In other words, Plaintiffs have alleged that CHA intentionally paid its workers $0 for each unrecorded hour worked during their meal breaks and before/after their shifts. This allegation is sufficient to state a claim for a minimum wage violation at this stage, and CHA’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ FLSA minimum wage claim is DENIED.”
It will be interesting to see if other courts begin following this well-reasoned opinion, and allowing for the recovery of “gap time” under the FLSA.
Click Norceide v. Cambridge Health Alliance to read the entire Memorandum and Order re: Motion to Dismiss, Motion to Amend, Motion for Conditional Certification.