A group of police officers working for the Woodbury County, Iowa Sheriff’s Department filed a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuit against the employer. The suit sought damages for, among other things, work during meal times and before and after shifts. When a jury returned a verdict in the County’s favor, the officers appealed.
The central issue on appeal was whether the trial judge made a mistake instructing the jury that the County had no legal duty to consult its computer-assisted dispatch (or CAD) logs. The officers had argued that the CAD logs would establish the fact that they had performed work outside of normal hours, and that the County was aware of that fact.
The Court acknowledged the general FLSA standard that an employee must be compensated under the FLSA for duties before and after scheduled hours “if the employer knows or has reason to believe the employee is continuing to work and the duties are an integral and indispensable part of the employee’s principal work activity.” As rephrased by the Court, the question was whether the County knew or should have known that the officers were working overtime: “Because constructive knowledge of overtime work is sufficient to establish liability under the FLSA, if the County, through reasonable diligence, should have acquired knowledge that the officers were working in excess of their scheduled hours, the jury would have been empowered to find the County liable.”
The Court refused to find that the CAD records “were an appropriate basis of constructive knowledge. Testimony at trial indicated that while County officials, including the Sheriff’s Department payroll office, technically had access to the CAD records, they were not used for payroll purposes. CAD records are only used so that dispatchers know what officers are available to respond to an emergency.
“It would not be reasonable to require that the County weed through non-payroll CAD records to determine whether or not its employees were working beyond their scheduled hours. This is particularly true given the fact that the County has an established procedure for overtime claims that plaintiffs regularly used. There is no indication here that the officers were discouraged from submitting overtime slips or that the submitted slips went unpaid. Nor is there evidence that the County was on notice that hours were being regularly underreported or that it should have been monitoring hours more closely.”
The Court declined the County’s suggestion that a “bright line” test should be used with respect to an employer’s access to certain records. The Court commented that “we do not foreclose the possibility that another case may lend itself to a finding that access to records would prove constructive knowledge of unpaid overtime work. Given the particular circumstances here, however, the trial court correctly determined that the CAD logs could not serve as a basis upon which to find that the County had constructive knowledge of unpaid overtime.”
Hertz v. Woodbury County, Iowa, 566 F.3d 775 (8th Cir. 2009).
This article appears in the July 2009 issue