Overconfidence won’t overcome questions of fact

Most practitioners and human resource professionals are already familiar with the increasingly difficult wage and hour laws in California and its “Mini Me” to the east, New York state. But some other states, including Oregon and Washington, have their own unique – though perhaps less burdensome – overtime laws.

In Mendis v. Schneider National Carriers, Case No. C15-0144-JCC (W.D. Wa., May 8, 2018), the plaintiffs, a class of truck drivers, brought suit under Washington state law for alleged unpaid overtime. Although the drivers were paid on a piece rate basis, they contended that they should have received overtime computed in accordance with Washington law rather than the arguably lower federal calculation. Emboldened by court rulings finding that they were entitled to overtime and certifying the class, the plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment on a variety of issues, including the sufficiency of the employer’s time records and that of a “willful” violation that would double the claimed damages.

In many overtime cases, of course, the employer moves for summary judgment on one or more issues, but it is less common on the plaintiffs’ side in part because their mantra is, and needs to be, “this is a question of fact for a jury to decide.” In this instance, perhaps to put additional pressure on the employer, it was the plaintiffs who sought summary judgment but were thwarted for the most part by questions of fact.

As to timekeeping records, the court found that the employer’s use of Federal Department of Transportation logs also satisfied the requirements of state law. It is not clear why the plaintiffs even made this argument except as an attempt to open the door to inflate the amount of time, based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S. 680 (1946). Even so, such arguments should not have been made when the records, in fact, existed.

The “willfulness” argument required more analysis, as the court had already concluded the existence of a violation of the state rest break laws. However, while it had found a violation, the court was persuaded that the plaintiffs did not prove that the violation was a matter of law, given a weak showing of the requisite intent and questions about what the law actually required during most of the class period.

The court did agree with the plaintiffs on their arguments regarding the proper calculation of overtime. These were not summary judgment arguments per se, but were related to the computation of amounts under state law. As these were pure issues of law, the court agreed with the plaintiffs’ proposed methodology, leaving it to the finder of fact to determine what the formula would yield based on the evidence. Thus, at the end of the day, the plaintiffs obtained a ruling from the court on how potential damages might be computed, but did not obtain summary judgment on any factual issue due to conflicting (and in some cases a lack of) evidence.

The bottom line: Plaintiffs moving for summary judgment on wage and hour class issues, like defendants, must still deal with potential issues of material fact.