The Fair Labor Standards Act entitled most workers to overtime pay for any time worked over forty hours a week. There are some exceptions, however – including the “motor carrier exemption,” a special classification applied to workers recognized by the Department of Transport as having qualification standards and work-hour limits. Essentially, it applies to workers who take part in interstate commerce using specific classes of vehicles recognized by the DOT.
“Plaintiffs are nonexempt and entitled to overtime compensation in any workweek in which they drive a motor vehicle not subject to the jurisdiction of the [DOT]."
It is this exception that is now at the heart of a lawsuit filed by workers at Superior Energy, an oilfield equipment provider based in Texas. According to plaintiffs, the classification of more than 1000 workers under the Department of Transport excemption is “knowingly false” and has been used as an excuse for years to withhold pay and bonuses. Now, they’re seeking to redress the balance by suing for compensation, penalties, fees, and liquidated damages under the FLSA.
How do the arguments stand up? Superior Energy’s policy of instructing workers to record forty hour work weeks – regardless of hours actually worked, which could be nearer sixty – is based upon the claim that the workers fulfill requirements to come under the DOT’s jurisdiction and thus be exempted. The company paid salaries to workers in Pennsylvania based solely upon the forty recorded hours, with bonuses and salary baring no relation to time actually worked. This, it seems, was justified by the argument that the vehicles operated were enough to qualify the workers as exempted, and the employer reportedly instructed workers to record forty hours worked every week.
For the workers and their lawyers, this is simply not true. According to the complaint, “plaintiffs are nonexempt and entitled to overtime compensation in any workweek in which they drive a motor vehicle not subject to the jurisdiction of the [DOT].“ They also point out that the vehicles routinely used are neither recognized by the DOT as relevant to the regulations nor used by all workers for interstate commerce. Based upon this, the workers argue that both the FLSA and Pennsylvania’s Minimum Wage Act apply to them – and that they are due their pay.
They also allege that Superior Energy and subsidiaries kept inaccurate records of workers’ hours.
In November 2012, the company’s policy changed and workers began receiving time-and-a-half for hours worked over forty hours a week. Overtime worked before this period, however, remains unpaid. The lawsuit, Dunkel et al., v. Superior Energy Services Inc. et al., case number 2:13-cv-00695, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, seeks to certify a class statewide of workers who haven’t received overtime pay since May 2010.