Within hours of Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee (PDC) were hit with an overtime class and collective action lawsuit in the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of staff that worked to get out the vote. The case is Katz v. DNC Services Corporation d/b/a Democratic National Committee and Pennsylvania Democratic Committee.
Bethany Katz claimed that she and other “organizers” were improperly classified as employees exempt from overtime and were each paid monthly salary of $3,000 regardless of how many hours were worked. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Pennsylvania Minimum Act (PMA) require employers to pay employees overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 hours each week. However, some employees are “exempt” from overtime, depending on the nature of the work they perform. For instance, employees who manage employees, develop policy, or are licensed professionals may, in certain instances, be properly classified as exempt employees.
Katz alleged that she and other organizers did not qualify for any exemption because the nature of the work did not relate to the management or general business operations of the DNC and/or the PDC. Katz claimed that she and the other organizers’ job duties consisted of helping with voter registration, handing out paperwork and forms to potential voters in person, reminding potential voters of deadlines, and soliciting volunteers. She says that the DNC and the PDC required her and the other organizers to regularly work more than 80 or 90 hours per week without overtime pay.
It is not unusual for employers to encounter employees who are motivated to work long hours for important results. However, misclassifying these dedicated and hard-working employees such that they are deprived of overtime can lead to wage and hour exposure. Although this article takes no position as to the truth of Katz’s allegations, it is possible that many of the DNC organizers in this lawsuit voluntarily and happily worked 80 or 90 hours per week with no expectation of overtime, because they were motivated by a sense of civic duty and/or loyalty to their candidate in this historic election.
If that is what occurred in Katz, it will serve as reminder to employers that employee enthusiasm can be an asset today and a potential lawsuit tomorrow. To minimize the potential risk, employers should be diligent about consulting counsel before classifying employees as exempt from overtime.