Canine Officer Recovers $42,000 In FLSA Lawsuit

Dewayne Letner is a canine officer with the City of Oliver Springs, Tennessee Police Department. Letner brought a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuit against the City, contending that he was entitled to compensation for the time he spent off duty caring for and training his dog.

The federal Court found that the law was clear that “law enforcement officers should be compensated for off-duty care and training of their police dogs because such activities are work under the FLSA. Caring for the dog is an integral part of a canine officer’s duties, which benefits the employer; therefore, the officers are entitled to compensation. Federal courts have also required the payment of compensation for off-duty care of police dogs owned by the officer, but used by the City for law enforcement purposes.”

The City argued that Letner did not request overtime compensation for his off-duty care and training at the time he performed the work, and thus he could not recover for the work. The Court disagreed, finding that “an employee’s right to be paid overtime compensation in accordance with the FLSA are statutory rights, and to pursue claims for damages allowable by the FLSA are statutory rights which affect the public interest and, hence, rights which may not be waived by an employee. An employee does not waive his claim for overtime compensation by failing to request overtime compensation at the time the work is performed. The evidence in this case demonstrates that Letner was told not only that he could not receive compensation for the off-duty care and training of his narcotics detection dog, but that he needed to keep quiet about the issue or the City Council would get rid of the dogs. Thus, his failure to contemporaneously request overtime for his off-duty work does not preclude his claim for back wages in this action.”

The Court held that one hour of pay per day, seven days a week, was a reasonable amount of compensation for the time Letner spent taking care of the dog. The Court awarded Letner $21,107.68 for back wages, plus an additional $21,107.68 in liquidated damages because the City failed to show that it acted in good faith in failing to pay Letner for the off-duty work.

Letner v. City of Oliver Springs, 2008 WL 597712 (E.D.Tenn. 2008).

This article appears in the May 2008 issue