Public Employees May Sue their Public Employer for FLSA violations

On January 31, 2014, the United States Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania rendered its decision in a class action lawsuit regarding violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA“) and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA“). Former employees of the Montgomery County Correctional facility (“MCCF”) alleged that correctional officers were not paid for work performed both before and after their scheduled shifts and were not paid overtime premium for ours worked over forty in a week.

In the facts of this case, Plaintiffs who were employed as correctional officers, alleged that they were generally paid for the scheduled length of their shifts as opposed to the time they actually worked, in violation of the FLSA. The officers cite three different events where Defendants violated their rights under the FLSA. First, before starting their shift they were required to report for roll call. However, before reporting for roll call, they had to retrieve keys from their personal lockers. Besides, officers are required to store any personal keys in their lockers before starting their shifts. Plaintiffs claimed in their complaint that they were not compensated for time they spent retrieving keys from their locker and then going to the roll call room; which took between 5 and 10 minutes every day. Second, correctional officers were required to remain at their posts at the end of their shift until replacement completed roll calls and performed “mandatory pass-down procedures”, which could take up to 25 minutes per shift. Finally, Plaintiffs alleged that the pay system used by MCCF cheated them from being paid an overtime premium for the hours worked over 40 hours in a week.

Defendants argued that the FLSA and the PMWA do not apply to public employees. Nevertheless, the Court granted the employees’ conditional certification for a class action under the FLSA but not under the PMWA because: “it would violate all discernable manifestations of legislative intent to construe ’employer’ in the PMWA to include political subdivisions.” Regarding the FLSA class action certification, the Court stated: “for the purpose of conditional certification and the facilitation of notice, we find that the declarations stating that correctional officers regularly engaged in pre- and post-shift activities, together with the paystubs showing they were generally paid in eight or twelve hour increments constitutes sufficient evidence of a policy of non-payment to warrant notice and discovery.”

This case clarified the application of the FLSA. It made it clear that the FLSA applies to government entities in the same manner that it applies to employers in the private sector. Therefore, employers in the public sector face the same the same type of class action lawsuits (regarding overtime pay, off-the-clock work or other employment law violations) that employers in the private sector have been facing for quite a long time. Public employers need to make sure that they respect all the provisions contained in the FLSA.

If you are an employee, in the public sector or the private sector and you believe your rights have been violated under the FLSA, please contact the Harman Firm P.C.