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Hasan v. GPM Investments, LLC
Yet another court has weighed in on the FWW (“half-time”) versus time and a half issue in so-called “salary misclassification” cases, and this time it’s a victory for employees. This case was before the court on the plaintiffs’ motion in limine regarding the methodology for calculating damages, in the event the plaintiffs prevailed on their misclassification claims at trial. Addressing all of the arguments typically proffered by plaintiff-employees and defendant-employers, the court held that the fluctuating work week methodology was inapplicable because the defendant failed to meet several of the prerequisites for its use. Thus, the court held that any damages had to be calculated using the FLSA’s default time and a half methodology.
After a lengthy discussion of the Missel case, a history of the FWW and recent salary misclassification decisions, the court discussed why the FWW could not apply to a salary misclassification case. Framing the issue, the court explained:
Plaintiffs contend that the fluctuating work week method of compensation is never appropriate in a case where an employer has misclassified an employee as exempt from the FLSA’s protections. They argue that misclassification cases only present one issue—how to reconstruct what the rate of pay would have been absent a violation. Defendants counter that in a misclassification case “a fixed salary is always meant to compensate for all hours worked,” and under Missel, a fluctuating work week calculation “provides the precise remedy.” Def. Opp. at 12. In other words, a misclassification case does not require that the court recreate a rate, but, instead, that it convert a unusual payment method into an hourly rate. Plaintiffs have the better argument and one need look no further than the DOL’s guidance to understand why.
Initially, the court noted that where an employer has classified an employee as exempt, logically there is never a mutual understanding that overtime will be paid at varying rates, because the parties agreement is that there will be no overtime at all.
When an employer misclassifies an employee, the resultant employment contract will never fulfill any of the requirements of section 778.114. First, parties who believe that an employee merits no overtime payment cannot simultaneously believe that any overtime will be paid at varying rates. Put another way, in a misclassification case, the parties never agreed to an essential term of a fluctuating work week arrangement—that overtime would be paid at different rates depending on the number of hours worked per week. See Perkins v. Southern New England Telephone Co., 2011 WL 4460248 at *3 (D.Conn. Sept. 27, 2011), Russell, 672 F.Supp.2d at 1013–14,Rainey v. Am. Forest & Paper Assoc., 26 F.2d 82, 100–02 (D.D.C.1998). To assume otherwise converts every salaried position into a position compensated at a fluctuating rate.
Next, the court noted the lack of contemporaneous overtime payment at the time the work in question was performed, pursuant to the parties agreement that there would be no overtime:
Second, misclassified employees will never have received any kind of bonus or premium for overtime. Indeed, parties will have explicitly agreed, as they did in this case, that employees will not earn extra money for long hours. See Def. Opp. Ex. A Job Description (listing the position as explicitly “exempt” from overtime compensation). At best, an employer could argue that the flat salary had an overtime bump embedded within it, that it was high enough so that employees remained well compensated for the hardship of working more than 40 hours per week. But this argument fails for two reasons: First, such an agreement would be illegal. An employee would have to waive her statutory right to extra compensation for overtime. Barrentine v. Arkansas–Best Freight Sys., 450 U.S. 728, 740 (1981) (noting that “FLSA rights cannot be abridged by contract” because this would “nullify the purposes of the statute”). Second, Missel explicitly rejected such an argument. The court reasoned that the contract at issue did not comply with the FLSA because “it [did not include a] provision for additional pay in the event the hours worked required minimum compensation greater than the fixed wage.” Missel, 316 U.S. at 581.
Further, here the court noted that while the plaintiffs’ hours fluctuated, the never worked fewer than 40 hours. Thus, the court concluded this was not a situation where short weeks were balanced against longer weeks and the plaintiffs were nonetheless receiving the type of steady income envisioned by the FWW as the supposed benefit for employees:
In this case, GPM also fails to meet a third criterion enunciated in the DOL’s guidance—that an employee’s hours actually fluctuate. After it lays out the requirements for a contract for a fluctuating rate, the rule warns that “typically, such salaries are paid to employees who do not customarily work a regular schedule of hours” and are “in amounts agreed on by the parties as adequate straight-time compensation for long work weeks as well as short ones .” 29 C.F.R. § 778.114(c). For a fluctuating work week arrangement to make sense to both parties, employees should offset their relative loss from a grueling work week far above forty hours with the benefit of full pay for weeks that clock-in at less than forty hours. Otherwise, employees have not bargained for anything but decreasing marginal pay as they work longer and longer hours at work. This is what the Court divined in Missel; a rate clerk would sometimes work long hours when shipments flooded in, and sometimes not at all when business dried up. Here, plaintiffs never had a short week; GPM’s job description stated that store managers were expected to work a minimum of 52 hours per week. See Def. Opp. Ex. A, Job Description. To the extent their hours fluctuated, it was because they sometimes worked almost 100 hours per week. See Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine, Ex. A, Timesheets. This variance, between weeks with a moderate amount of overtime hours, and weeks where a majority of hours worked exceeded the 40 hour threshold, is not the same as the up and down fluctuation contemplated by the DOL and by the Court in Missel.
In light of the defendant’s failure to meet any of the prerequisites for the use of the FWW, the court concluded that any damages due would be calculated using the FLSA’s default time and a half methodology. Thus, it granted the plaintiffs’ motion in limine.
Click Hasan v. GPM Investments, LLC to read the entire Ruling and Order on Motion in Limine to Preclude Use of the Fluctuating Work Week.
Perkins v. Southern New England Telephone Co.
This case, concerning allegations that the plaintiffs were “salaried misclassified” was before the court on the parties’ cross-motions in limine for a determination as to how damages should be calculated by the jury. While the defendants argued that they should be entitled to calculate any back wages due at “half-time” pursuant to the fluctuating workweek (“FWW”), the plaintiffs argued that the damages must be calculated using the FLSA’s default methodology of time and a half. Because the FWW would result in back wages of less than 1/3 of the amount of a time and a half calculation, the stakes were big. Because this case was not one of first impression, the court surveyed the previous cases from around the country, as well as DOL interpretive bulletins in reaching its decision. Significantly, the court declined to follow prior Circuit decisions, which it reasoned were not well-founded, instead opting to follow a series of district court decisions that discussed the issue in far more detailed and well-reasoned opinions.
Holding that plaintiffs’ damages were to be calculated at time and a half, the court reasoned:
“Although the Second Circuit has not addressed the use of the fluctuating workweek method in a misclassification case, other Courts of Appeal have applied section 778.114 to misclassification cases. See Clements v. Serco, Inc., 530 F.3d 1224, 1230–31 (10th Cir.2008); Valerio v. Putnam Assocs. Inc., 173 F.3d 35, 40 (1st Cir.1999); Blackmon v. Brookshire Grocery Co., 835 F.2d 1135, 1138 (5th Cir.1988). None of these cases, however, provide any meaningful analysis regarding the merits of adapting the fluctuating workweek method to the misclassification context. Instead, the Tenth Circuit and the First Circuit base their finding on another case, Bailey v. County of Georgetown, wherein the Fourth Circuit held that section 778.114 does not require that the employee understand the manner in which overtime pay is calculated in order to apply the fluctuating workweek method. See Bailey v. Cnty. of Georgetown, 94 F.3d 152, 156 (4th Cir.1996). The plaintiffs in Bailey, however, were contesting the rate of overtime they were receiving, not whether they were entitled to overtime at all. See id. at 153–54 (describing the facts of the case). Consequently, Bailey is easily distinguishable from the case at hand. Also failing to address the applicability of the fluctuating workweek method to misclassification cases, Blackmon provides only a cursory explanation of computing overtime according to section 778.114. Blackmon, 835 F.2d at 1138–39.
In contrast, several district courts have held that applying the fluctuating workweek method to a misclassification violates the plain language of section 778.114. Generally, these courts hold that the language of section 778.114 requires both “(1) a clear mutual understanding that a fixed salary will be paid for fluctuating hours, apart from overtime premiums; and (2) the contemporaneous payment of overtime premiums.” See Russell v. Wells Fargo & Co., 672 F.Supp.2d 1008, 1013 (N.D.Cal.2009) (emphasis in original); Ayers v. SGS Control Servs., Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19634 at *40–42 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 27, 2007); Rainey v. Am. Forest & Paper Assoc., Inc., 26 F.2d 82, 100–02 (D.D.C.1998) (finding that as a matter of law, the employer cannot prove a clear mutual understanding or contemporaneous payment of overtime premiums in a misclassification case); see also Urnikis–Negro, 616 F.3d at 678 (“Besides looking forward rather than backward, the interpretive rule plainly envisions the employee’s contemporaneous receipt of a premium apart from his fixed wage for any overtime work he has performed.”); 29 C.F.R. 778.114, supra at 4–5. Because the employer in a misclassification case has necessarily not made any contemporaneous payment of overtime premiums, these courts find that section 778.114 is inapplicable in a misclassification case. In addition, courts have found that assessing damages according to section 778.114 may actually frustrate the purpose of the FLSA. See, e.g., In re Texas EZPawn Fair Labor Standards Act Litig., 633 F.2d 395, 404–05 (W.D.Tex.2008) (using a hypothetical situation to demonstrate that the fluctuating workweek method may result in overtime compensation that is 375% lower than the traditional method, and asserting that using the fluctuating workweek method to calculate damages in misclassification cases allows employers to “escape the time and one-half requirement of the FLSA”).
This court agrees with other district courts that have analyzed this issue and concludes that section 778.114 does not support the use of the fluctuating workweek method in the circumstances presented in this misclassification case.”
As noted by the court, the Second Circuit has not weighed in on this issue as of yet. Therefore, it will be interesting to see if this case ends up there, giving another Circuit an opportunity to weigh in on this issue, which the Supreme Court recently declined to take up.
Click Perkins v. Southern New England Telephone Co. to read the entire Ruling on the cross-motions in limine.