regarding compensation for on-call time.
Plaintiffs claim defendants' efforts to investigate were minimal, consisting of Brian's attendance at a seminar on the FLSA conducted by a management law firm and consulting a Department of Labor handout relating to nurses. This handout warned that employees who were unable to use on-call time for personal pursuits might be "engaged to wait" and therefore entitled to compensation. Despite this warning, Brian did not discuss the Coroner's on-call policy with Dunham or any deputy coroner, did not familiarize herself with Coroner's Office staffing, did not review any Coroner's Office documents reflecting frequency of calls, did not familiarize herself with deputy coroner duties and did not review the Annual Report.
According to plaintiffs, defendants reached their decision that on-call time was not compensable prior to collective bargaining negotiations and therefore did not bargain in good faith.
Further, plaintiffs believe defendants ceased investigating this issue in 1986, despite several Wage and Hour opinion letters which could, if applied to the deputy coroners' circumstances, have led defendants to believe their on-call time to be compensable. (Pl. Ex. 5, 6 and 7)
Plaintiffs argue that defendants have no defense under 29 U.S.C. § 259, since they did not seek a ruling or written opinion from the Wage and Hour Administration of the Department of Labor on the issue of compensability of on-call time for deputy coroners. If so, then defendants cannot claim under the statute that they were "in good faith in conformity with and in reliance on a written administrative regulation" of the Wage and Hour Administrator.
Defendants did not consult the appropriate regulations, according to plaintiffs, especially the regulations set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 553.221, applicable specifically to public agencies. Nor did defendants seek specific advice from the Department of Labor regarding the situation in the Coroner's Office.
If the County made inadequate efforts to ensure that its employment agreement with the coroner investigators complied with the FLSA, and the agreement and practice of defendants does not in fact comply with the FLSA, then the investigators may be entitled to liquidated damages, equal to the amount of the overtime pay due them. 948 F.2d at 1541
In the Renfro case, the employer's representative made one phone call to the Department of Labor to determine whether their overtime compensation plan complied with the FLSA. They were unable at trial to remember anything except the name of the Department of Labor employee, neither her job title nor specifics of what she said. The court found this to be evidence that the employer did not have "reasonable grounds" for believing its position to be in compliance. Id.
Applying the standards for determining the employer's good faith and reasonable grounds for assuming it was in compliance with the FLSA, this court finds that the Sheriff's Department was acting in good faith and was reasonable in assuming that its overtime compensation policy was in compliance with the FLSA. Personnel analysts had attended seminars, reviewed the statute and reviewed the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Garcia, as well as Wage and Hour rulings regarding other on-call employees.
The parties had raised and negotiated the issue of overtime pay for on-call hours as part of the collective bargaining process and had reached a resolution several times, albeit an unsatisfactory one for the plaintiffs.
Defendants did compensate the coroners for what defendants interpreted to be time worked while on-call.
Since defendants' violation of the FLSA was not wilful, plaintiffs are not entitled to liquidated damages. Furthermore, the applicable statute of limitations is two years, rather than the three years established for wilful violations. This affects plaintiffs' claim for compensatory damages.
This case was filed December 19, 1989. Plaintiffs may therefore claim damages only from December 19, 1987 to the present.
Plaintiffs have calculated their damages by multiplying their uncompensated hours of on-call time by their pay rate at the time they worked the hours by one and one-half, since these hours represented overtime.
The statistics are defendants', since defendants kept the records of hours worked (based on the deputy coroners' logs) and hours paid, as well as the records of the plaintiffs' rates of pay. The total amount claimed is $ 200,731.11.
Defendants' violation of the FLSA was in good faith; the applicable statute of limitations is two years. Plaintiffs' calculations should begin at December 19, 1987, two years before this case was filed. Any amount claimed for the period prior to December 19, 1987 shall be subtracted from plaintiffs' award. Plaintiffs shall prepare a revised calculation of their damages and submit it to the Court.
Plaintiffs are also entitled to an award of attorney's fees, as provided by 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Plaintiffs shall prepare a sworn declaration detailing the hours expended in this action and the billing rate of counsel, as well as associated costs of suit.
This court enters judgment for plaintiffs in the amount of $ 200,731.11, less calculated unpaid overtime prior to December 19, 1987. Plaintiffs shall prepare and submit to the court the appropriate re-calculation of plaintiffs' damages. This court also awards attorney's fees and costs as substantiated by plaintiffs. This court declines to award liquidated damages, finding that defendants acted in good faith and with reasonable grounds for believing that they were in compliance with the FLSA.
Dated: February 28, 1992
F. STEELE LANGFORD
Chief Magistrate Judge