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Court rules on first impression FLSA issue

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In denying summary judgment for either party in a dispute involving the Fair Labor Standards Act, the U.S. District judge noted the issue appears to be one of first impression in the 7th Circuit.

In Nicholas S. Pennington v. G.H. Herrmann Funeral Homes Inc., No. 1:09-CV-390, Nicholas Pennington, a licensed funeral director and embalmer, sued his former employer, G.H. Herrmann Funeral Homes, for violating the FLSA and Indiana Wage Payment Statute by not paying him a proper overtime premium under the FLSA for hours worked in excess of 40 per workweek.

Pennington worked for the funeral home for seven years and worked two alternating work schedules: 36 hours a week during day shifts and 101.5 hours per week during night shifts. He was paid more per hour during the day shift than the night shift, which included 61.5 hours of overtime.

The FLSA lets an employer pay an employee overtime at one-and-one-half times a different hourly rate than the employee’s regular hourly rate when the employee performs “two or more kinds of work” and has reached an agreement with the employer that different rates apply to different kinds of work. But neither the FLSA nor its regulations have defined the term “different kinds of work” and there is little caselaw on the matter, noted Chief Judge Richard L. Young.

Chief Judge Young relied on Townsend v. Mercy Hosp. of Pittsburgh, 862 F.2d 1009 (3d Cir. 1988), in which the court found that “active work” performed by operating room personnel during their regular shift was qualitatively different than the “stand-by/non productive” periods on the overtime off-hours shift. It also held the hospital’s compensation scheme didn’t run afoul of the FLSA because it based the operating room personnel’s active duty pay during the overtime shift upon their regular weekday base rate of pay.

The dispute in the instant case is whether Pennington’s duties differed depending on which shift he worked. He claimed he did the same type of work, only did it less frequently at night; the funeral home claimed his duties were different.

“The court agrees that, to the extent Plaintiff performed 'funeral director' type work at night, Plaintiff’s job duties during the day were the same job duties as those he performed at night,” wrote the chief judge.

It would seem based on Townsend that the funeral home had to pay Pennington his regular hourly rate and base his overtime pay on that rate for the time spent at night performing those funeral director-type duties. But Chief Judge Young declined to grant summary judgment to either side because Pennington’s night duties and the frequency with which he did them are disputed.

Chief Judge Young denied summary judgment on the issues of bona fide hourly rate, normal applicable rate for overtime wages, different rates for different shifts, and if there was a violation of the Indiana Wage Payment Statute. He did grant summary judgment in favor of the funeral home with respect to Pennington’s liquidated damages claim.
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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