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5th Cir.: Defendants’ Purported Day-Rates Were Impermissible Where They Made Deductions For Partial Days Worked

Solis v. Hooglands Nursery, L.L.C.

This is an appeal from the district court’s order granting summary judgment for Plaintiff on behalf of various employees of Defendants.  The district court held that the Defendants violated the overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The Defendants appealed the district court’s order as it relates to its non-salaried employees, arguing that there were genuine issues of fact regarding whether their day rate plan was invalid under the FLSA and whether they acted in good faith.  Discussing each basis for summary judgment in turn, the 5th Circuit affirmed.

Briefly discussing Defendants’ purported day-rate methodology, the Court explained:

“Appellants first argue that there remained a genuine issue of fact regarding whether their day-rate method of paying their employees met the standards of 29 C.F.R. § 778.112. However, Appellants concede both before the district court and on appeal that their employees’ wages were reduced when the employees worked less than a full day. Accordingly, Appellants did not have a valid day-rate plan in use, and their failure to pay their employees overtime compensation pay for time worked beyond forty hours per week violated 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).”

Next the Court discussed the issue of unpaid fifteen minute breaks.

“Appellants next concede that they failed to pay their employees for two fifteen-minute breaks per day, in violation of the FLSA. Nevertheless, Appellants argue that their purported overpayment to their employees as part of their day-rate plan compensated for the shortfall, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 778.202(a). However, as the district court properly held, Appellants did not employ a valid day-rate plan, because they reduced employees’ pay for hours they did not work. Accordingly, the district court properly concluded that Appellants remain liable for the amounts deducted from their employees’ compensable break periods.”

Last the Court discussed the award of liquidated damages, and the fact that the Court was entitled to award liquidated damages, notwithstanding a showing of both subjective and objective good faith.

“Finally, Appellants argue that even if they violated the FLSA by not implementing a proper day-rate plan and failed to pay proper overtime compensation, there remained a question of fact as to whether Appellants’ failures were in good faith, thus precluding an award of liquidated damages. Liquidated damages are awarded as a matter of course for violations of 29 U.S.C. § 207. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 260, however, a district court may decline to award liquidated damages if the employer demonstrates that it acted reasonably and in good faith. Heidtman v. County of El Paso, 171 F.3d 1038, 1042 (5th Cir.1999). Nevertheless, even if a defendant shows both subjective good faith and objective reasonableness, an award of liquidated damages remains in the discretion of the district court. See § 260; Heidtman, 171 F.3d at 1042. After reviewing the record, the district court correctly held that Appellants “ha[ve] submitted no evidence that [their] reliance on a bookkeeper with no managerial authority to ensure [their] compliance with the FLSA was reasonable.” Accordingly, Appellants have not carried their burden of showing good faith, and an award liquidated damages was proper.”

S.D.Fla.: Where Defendant Demonstrated Subjective Component Of Good Faith, But Failed To Show Objective Good Faith, Liquidated Damages Appropriate

Wajcman v. Investment Corp. of Palm Beach

Following a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs, on their claims that Defendant violated the FLSA, by illegally allowing certain employees to share in the tip pooling, the issue before the Court was whether Defendant had presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that its violation of the FLSA occurred in good faith and under the reasonable belief that it was compliant with the FLSA. Because, the Defendant were able to show only subjective good faith (consult with an attorney), the Court awarded full liquidated damages.

The Court explained, “To satisfy the good faith requirement, an employer must show that it acted with both subjective and objective good faith ( Rodriguez, 518 F.3d at 1272), and “upon such reasonable grounds that it would be unfair to impose upon [it] more than a compensatory verdict.” Bozeman v. Port-O-Tech Corp., 2008 WL 4371313, * 15 (S.D.Fla. Sept. 19, 2008)(quoting Joiner, 814 F.2d at 1538)). To demonstrate the subjective component, an employer must show that it had “an honest intention to ascertain what the FLSA requires and to act in accordance with those requirements.” Feniger v. Cafe Aroma, 2007 WL 853735, *3 (M.D.Fla. March 16, 2007)(citing Dybach v. State of Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 942 F.2d 1562, 1566 (11th Cir.1991)). Proving the objective component of the good faith defense requires the employer to demonstrate that it had a reasonable belief that its conduct conformed with the FLSA. See Chao v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 568 F.Supp.2d 1300, 1322 (N.D.Ala.2008). If the employer can demonstrate that it had both a subjective belief that it was compliant with the FLSA and that it also had an objectively reasonable basis for its belief, then the Court may apply the safe harbor provision and limit or deny an award of liquidated damages. See Stevenson v. Orlando’s Auto Specialists, Inc., 2008 WL 4371830, *4 (M.D.Fla. Sept. 23, 2008). “Absent a showing of both the subjective and objective elements of the good faith defense, liquidated damages are mandatory.” Dybach v. State of Fla. Dept. of Corrections, 942 F.2d 1562, 566-67 (11th Cir.1991)(citation omitted ).

Here, with regard to the subjective component, the Court finds that Defendant has demonstrated that it had “an honest intention to ascertain what the FLSA requires and to act in accordance with those requirements.” Feniger v. Cafe Aroma, 2007 WL 853735, *3 (M.D.Fla. March 16, 2007)(citing Dybach v. State of Fla. Dep’t of Corr., 942 F.2d 1562, 1566 (11th Cir.1991)). This finding is based on Ms. Lampman’s testimony that she consulted with attorneys, familiarized herself with the law, and ascertained the tip pooling practices of other cardrooms in the local area before implementing Defendant’s tip pool. These activities are sufficient to show that Defendant made some effort to “investigate potential liability under the FLSA.” Feniger, 2007 WL 853735 at *3 (quoting Barcellona v. Tiffany English Pub., Inc., 597 F.2d 464, 469 (5th Cir.1979)). Additionally, Ms. Lampman’s decision to include the floor supervisors in the tip pool, based on what she perceived to be their sufficient level of customer interaction, while excluding other positions that she believed did not have the requisite level of interaction with the patrons, demonstrates an intent to comply with the FLSA.

However, the Court finds that Defendant’s belief regarding its FLSA compliance was not objectively reasonable. First, there are a number of cases which suggest that an employee’s level of customer interaction is the most significant factor in evaluating whether he qualifies as a “tipped employee” under the FLSA. See Roussell v. Brinker Intern., Inc., 2008 WL 2714079 at *7, * 10 (S.D.Tex. July 9, 2008)(agreeing with the Sixth Circuit that the level of customer interaction is “highly relevant ” and that the extent of an employee’s interaction with customers is “critical ” in determining whether an employee may participate in a valid tip pool)(emphasis added)(citing Myers v. Copper Cellar Corp., 192 F .3d 546, 550 (6th Cir.1999); Kilgore v. Outback Steakhouse of Florida, Inc., 160 F.3d 294, 300-02 (6th Cir.1998)). See also Morgan v. SpeakEasy, LLC, 2007 WL 2757170, * 18 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 20, 2007)(court focused on employees’ customer related activities to determine whether they were properly included in tip pool); Townsend v. BG-Meridian, Inc., 2005 WL 2978899, *7 (W.D.Okla. Nov. 7, 2005)(same).

Here, however, the bulk of the evidence before this Court suggests that the floor supervisors in Defendant’s cardroom had only de minimus customer interaction. Although the written job description mentions that floor supervisors will have “[d]aily contact with customers,” the evidence demonstrates that such contact did not rise to the level of customer interaction usually associated with a tipped employee. Indeed, the testimony at trial indicated that the floor supervisors’ interaction with customers was sporadic and only on an as-needed basis for dispute resolution or when hosts, chip runners or waitresses were unavailable. As their job description sets forth, the floor supervisors’ primary responsibility was to supervise the employees on the cardroom floor, which included assigning the dealers’ table rotations, their break times and ensuring employees’ compliance with the dress code.

Based on this testimony, the Court finds that Defendant overstated the customer interaction component of the floor supervisors’ duties to justify their inclusion in the tip pool. The Court further finds that Defendant underestimated the significance of the “customer interaction” test, relying too heavily on industry practice to support its decision to include the floor supervisors in the tip pool. This combination of errors resulted in Defendant’s grossly miscalculated conclusion that the floor supervisors were proper participants in the tip pool. Indeed, the jury’s verdict suggests that an average person outside the gaming industry would not agree with Defendant’s characterization of the floor supervisors as having significant customer interaction and such a skewed perception cannot be construed by this Court as objectively reasonable. See Kennedy v. Critical Intervention Services, Inc., 199 F.Supp.2d 1305, 1307-08 (M.D.Fla.2002)(although court found employer to have satisfied subjective good faith based on its investigation of the FLSA in an effort to avoid violating it, court found employer’s belief that it was compliant with the FLSA was not supported by the evidence and was not objectively reasonable; in reaching this conclusion court relied on jury’s verdict that plaintiff was not an exempt employee). See also Brandt v. Magnificent Quality Florals Corp., 2009 WL 899922, *3 (S.D.Fla. March 31, 2009) (even though employer was aware of FLSA overtime requirements, his belief that his employees never worked more than 40 hours was not supported by the evidence and, thus, was not objectively reasonable).”

S.D.N.Y.: Despite Evidence Of Good Faith, Court Constrained By Jury’s Finding Of Willfulness As To Defendants’ FLSA Violation; Liquidated Damages Due

Scott v. City of New York

Over fifteen thousand current and former New York City police officers and detectives (Plaintiffs) asserted that the City of New York and the New York City Police Department (“Defendants”) systematically violated plaintiffs’ overtime rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). This lawsuit addressed the policies and practices of the nation’s largest police department, and plaintiffs claim hundreds of millions of dollars in damages based on defendants’ alleged failures concerning the accrual, use, and payment of overtime.  Before the Court was the issue of whether defendants may be relieved from the FLSA’s liquidated damages provision on account of a good faith attempt to comply with the statute.  Although evaluating the evidence presented by the Defendants of good faith, the Court noted that it was bound to find a willful violation, based on the juries prior finding of willfulness:

“If this Court were free to determine independently whether defendants acted in good faith, I would address evidence presented at trial concerning defendants’ consultation of in-house lawyers and outside counsel, along with other compliance efforts. However, the Second Circuit has squarely held-along with the majority of other Circuit that a district court may not find good faith after a jury has concluded that the employer willfully violated the FLSA. Therefore, I decline to find that defendants acted in good faith and hold that plaintiffs are entitled to liquidated damages in equal amount to compensatory damages resulting from the chart claim and the regular rate claim.”

11th Cir.: Employer’s Payment Of Wages 7-8 Days After Pay Period Ended Not FLSA Violation; No Liquidated Damages Due

Benavides v. Miami Atlanta Airfreight, Inc.

Plaintiffs sought liquidated damages for untimely payment of their wages under the FLSA.  The crux of Plaintiffs’ complaint was that Airfreight’s policy of paying its employees seven to eight days after the pay-period ended-without justification for the delay-violates the FLSA.

Section 206(b) of the FLSA provides that “[e]very employer shall pay to each of his employees … who in any work week is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce … not less than the minimum wage rate….”29 U.S.C. § 206(b). Although the FLSA specifies no time within which wages must be paid, liquidated damages may be available if the employer fails to pay wages or overtime on the regular payment date. See Atlantic Co. v. Broughton, 146 F.2d 480, 482 (5th Cir.1945). And we will assume that a “regular payment date” may be so far distant from the pay period to which payment relates to state a violation of the FLSA minimum wage. But we are cited to no cases that have concluded that seven or eights days’ payment in arrears-the time between the end of the pay period and Airfreight’s regular payment date-is actionably unreasonable or untimely.  No requirement exists that wages be paid simultaneously with the end of the pay period. We see no support in the FLSA or in case law for Plaintiffs’ conflation of the end of the pay period and the regular pay date.

Olsen v. Superior Pontiac-GMC, Inc., 765 F.2d 1570 (11th Cir .1985), cited by Plaintiffs, is not on point. Olsen addressed whether commissions paid to car salesmen could be carried forward. Olsen concluded that the carry-forward-payment sequence was allowable only if the employee actually received the minimum wage for each pay period. The district court committed no error in granting summary judgment to Airfreight: Plaintiffs failed to show that Airfreight’s practice of paying wages seven to eight days after the wages accrued violates the FLSA.