On February 1, 2018, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed an overtime class action suit brought on behalf of a group of former democratic campaign workers for their work during the 2016 presidential election. See Katz v. DNC Services Corp., Civil Action No. 16-5800 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 1, 2018). In dismissing the overtime suit, the Court relied on an often-overlooked defense to the Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”) – namely, that the FLSA only covers employees engaged in interstate commerce as opposed to employees engaged in purely local activities.
A group of former field organizers filed suit under the FLSA seeking unpaid overtime wages for weeks in which they worked in excess of 40 hours. The Complaint alleged that the field organizers were primarily responsible for canvassing, contacting voters telephonically and in person, soliciting other volunteers, and entering voter information into a database that was accessible to organizers in other states.
The Pennsylvania arm of the DNC moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the field organizers’ work failed to come within the ambit of the FLSA’s protections. Specifically, individual coverage under the FLSA is limited to employees “who in any workweek [are] engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.” 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Under those requirements, employees must show that their work involved the movement of persons or goods in interstate commerce (i.e., across state lines).
The Court found that the majority of the organizers’ activities were purely local in nature – i.e., canvassing door-to-door, soliciting other in-state volunteers, and collecting information on prospective Pennsylvania voters. Although the organizations made some out-of-state calls, the Court found that these activities did not occur with sufficient regularity to meet the FLSA’s coverage thresholds.
The Court also found that the employees’ activities in updating a voter database was insufficient. Specifically, the employees alleged that they regularly updated a shared voter database that was accessible by organizers in different states. The Court, however, held that there was no evidence that the employees actively sent the document to other states; rather, the document itself was accessible to other organizers via a shared network. To that point, the Court warned that, “[b]y Plaintiffs’ logic, any employee who ever saved a document to the ICloud or ever uploaded a document to the internet would come under the FLSA’s protections for having ‘moved’ information across state lines.” As such, the Court dismissed the action.