Justices OK overtime pay for $200,000-a-year oil rig worker

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The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. (IL file photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that an energy company employee who earned more than $200,000 a year still qualified for overtime pay under a New Deal-era federal law meant to protect blue-collar workers.

By a 6-3 vote, the justices sided with Michael Hewitt, who was a “tool-pusher” supervising 12 to 14 workers on an offshore oil rig. Hewitt was paid a minimum of $963 for any day he worked as part of an unusual schedule on the oil rig.

Between 2014 and 2017, Hewitt was paid more than $200,000 a year from his employer, Helix Energy Solutions Group. But Hewitt earned no overtime, even when he worked more than 80 hours a week, as sometimes happened.

Business groups had told the court that a ruling for Hewitt would turn the Fair Labor Standards Act on its head by encouraging highly trained and well-paid workers to sue under a law that was meant to address substandard wages and dangerously long hours.

In an opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, the court held that Hewitt qualified for overtime pay under the FLSA, despite a provision of the law that exempts “bona fide executives.” Under Labor Department regulations, employees making more than $100,000 a year generally don’t have to be paid overtime.

Hewitt prevailed, Kagan wrote, because the company paid him by the day and not weekly. The regulation at issue “applies solely to employees paid by the week (or longer); it is not met when an employer pays an employee by the day, as Helix paid Hewitt,” Kagan wrote.

In dissent, Justice Brett Kavanaugh lamented the court’s “head-scratching assertion” that Hewitt wasn’t guaranteed a weekly minimum in any week he worked even as he was “guaranteed to receive $963 for any day that he worked.” Justice Samuel Alito joined Kavanaugh’s dissent and Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented separately.

The case is Helix Energy Solutions Group v. Hewitt, 21-984.

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