The facts are familiar:
- An employee who is classified as exempt files suit claiming misclassification and seeking overtime pay.
- Understandably, the employer does not have time records for the employee because he was treated as exempt and paid on a salary basis.
- Employee fills the void by testifying that he worked 60 hours every single week based on approximations and estimates of his daily routines.
All too often, such generalized testimony about weekly hours worked is enough for a plaintiff to survive summary judgment and be given a ticket to plead his case to a jury of his peers. Last week, however, the 8th Circuit said not so fast and affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to an employer because the plaintiff’s across-the-board approximation of his hours worked was insufficient to state a claim under the FLSA.
In Holaway v. Stratasys, Inc., Holaway worked as a field service engineer for Stratasys and was classified as exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements. Holaway installed and serviced 3D printers manufactured and distributed by Stratasys. As an FSE, he traveled from his home directly to client sites when called upon. When not on assignment, he was on-duty at home awaiting assignment. After his termination, Holaway sued Stratasys claiming that he was misclassified and owed overtime for all those weeks during which he worked more than 40 hours.
As is often the case with employees classified as exempt, Stratasys did not have time records for Holaway. In those cases, courts generally employ a “relaxed standard of proof” for employees to demonstrate the uncompensated hours that they worked so as not to penalize them for their employer’s failure to keep time records. Under this standard, an employee need only provide admissible evidence sufficient to create a just and reasonable inference that he worked the claimed hours without compensation. If the employee meets that low burden, the employer has the opportunity to refute the reasonableness of the inferences with admissible evidence.
Although Holaway admitted during his deposition that his schedule varied from week to week based on client demands, he concluded that he worked approximately 60 hours each and every week of his employment. His estimations made no provision for sick time, vacation time, paid holidays, or other documented time off during his employment. Ultimately, Holaway was unable to point to any specific week where he worked more than forty hours. Stratasys moved for summary judgment. The district court punted on the question of whether Holaway was exempt or non-exempt but granted Stratasys’s motion, holding that Holaway had failed to put forth evidence sufficient to show that he worked more than 40 hours in any given week. On Holaway’s appeal, the 8th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling, holding that Holaway’s vague, conclusory, and contradictory testimony about his weekly hours worked failed to meet even the relaxed evidentiary standard afforded to him in the absence of company-maintained time records.
The 8th Circuit’s Holaway decision is a victory for employers facing all-too common misclassification claims in which plaintiffs support their overtime claims with nothing more than unsubstantiated testimony estimating the number of hours they generally worked. With this decision in hand, employers have new ammunition to hold plaintiffs’ feet to the fire when it comes to proving the amount and extent of their alleged overtime work.