Kristofer Lewallen began his duties as a canine officer for Scott County, Tennessee on July 1, 2006 when the Sheriff ordered him to pick up a black Labrador dog named “J.J.” The Sheriff told Lewallen to begin working with the dog and eventually J.J. would be trained as a narcotics detection dog. J.J. lived with Lewallen and Lewallen fed, trained and cared for him. Eventually Lewallen also needed to perform maintenance training with J.J. to keep him certified as a narcotics dog.
Lewallen was not compensated for any of the time he cared for and trained J.J., although the County paid for food, veterinary care, and other necessary items for the dog. In January 2007, Lewallen went to outside training and learned for the first time that canine officers should receive extra pay for the time they spent with their dogs off the clock. Lewallen researched the requirements and submitted the information to the County. Two months later, the Sheriff announced the suspension of the County canine program. Nevertheless, Lewallen still had to care for and train J.J. since he still had possession of the dog. During this time, Lewallen kept training logs for J.J., which were given to a chief. The training logs showed the amount of time Lewallen was training J.J. during his off-duty hours – 45 minutes to six hours a day on his days off and after his shifts.
The Sheriff allowed the canine officers to begin working with their dogs again in September 2007. Lewallen asked the chief about compensation for his off-duty care and training of his dog, and the chief said that the Sheriff knew about his request for overtime compensation. Lewallen prepared a proposed schedule that gave each canine officer two hours of paid time per scheduled workday as compensation for the care and training of the dogs, and submitted the plan to the chief. He never received any response to his proposal.
Eventually, Lewallen brought an FLSA lawsuit against the County, seeking compensation for his off-duty dog care hours. A federal district court upheld his claim for compensation.
The Court found that the care and training of J.J. was for the benefit of Scott County, and was an integral and indispensable part of the County’s canine program. Citing a long string of cases to the same effect, the Court ruled that “time spent caring for and training police dogs is compensable work under the FLSA.”
The County argued that it eventually paid canine officers an additional $1,000 per year to compensate them for the off-duty time spent caring for and training their dogs, and that the officers agreed to this compensation. The Court was unconvinced, holding: “There is no evidence in the record that the officers ever agreed to this amount of compensation. The decision to pay the extra $1,000 per year to compensate the canine officers appears to be a unilateral decision by the County. Lewallen testified that he knew nothing about it, and in fact, he did not receive it at all until a few days before trial when the County’s attorney attempted to give Lewallen a check for $1,000 in satisfaction of the overtime. Lewallen refused to sign the paper and gave the check to his attorney. Furthermore, the extra $1,000 amounts to less than $3.00 per day which, at one and one-half times his regular pay ($10 to $11 per hour), amounts to compensation for about fifteen minutes of overtime.”
The Court awarded Lewallen 1.5 hours per day of compensation for his dog care time. Because the County was unable to show that its conduct was either reasonable or in good faith, the Court also required the County to pay an equivalent additional amount as “liquidated damages.” All told, Lewallen was awarded approximately $43,000 in damages.
Lewallen v. Scott County, Tenn., 2010 WL 2757145 (E.D. Tenn. 2010).
This article appears in the September 2010 issue