Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit issued a published opinion in Ruffin v. MotorCity Casino, in which the court held that casino security guards’ meal breaks, during which they were required to stay on casino property and monitor their two-way radios, were not spent “predominantly for the employer’s benefit,” and so not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Several security guards at MotorCity Casino sued their employer in the Eastern District of Michigan, alleging that they were entitled to overtime because the casino required them to “work” during their paid lunch. The guards, regularly scheduled to work weekly forty-hour shifts, claimed that a mandatory fifteen-minute roll call meeting prior to each shift meant they actually worked 41.25 hours each week, and so were entitled to overtime on the additional 1.25 hours under the FLSA. Underlying this claim was the guards’ allegation that their thirty-minute paid meal “breaks” actually constituted “work” because the casino restricted how they could spend those breaks, including requiring them to monitor their radios and respond in cases of emergency.
The district court granted summary judgment for MotorCity and, looking at the “totality of the circumstances,” the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The test for compensable time under the FLSA is whether an employee spends the time “predominantly for the employer’s benefit,” notwithstanding the designation of the time as a lunch or break period. In evaluating the plaintiffs’ appeal under the predominant benefit test, the Sixth Circuit looked to three factors: (1) whether the guards were engaged in the performance of substantial duties during their meal periods, (2) whether the casino’s business regularly interrupted the guards’ breaks, and (3) the guards’ inability to leave casino property during their breaks.
As to the first factor, the court held that the guards’ required radio monitoring and being available for emergencies was a “de minimis activity, not a substantial job duty.” As to the second factor of “regular interruptions,” the court emphasized the fact that three employees alleged a total of only eleven interrupted meal periods over a collective eighteen years of employment. On the final factor, the Sixth Circuit noted that the casino’s requirement that the guards stay on the property during meals did not “convert meal break time into compensable working time” because the employees spent their breaks “doing exactly what one might expect an off-duty employee to do” on break: eat, read, use the internet, and conduct personal business.
Although this case is perhaps not groundbreaking for the proposition that, absent other substantial job duties, radio monitoring during meal breaks is non-compensable, it is worth noting the extent to which the Sixth Circuit relied on other circuits’ precedent regarding the “totality of the circumstances” in reaching its conclusion. Finally, it also emphasizes that employees bear the burden of proving that their meal periods are compensable, and that more than just a few examples or instances are needed to demonstrate a “working lunch.”