Taunya Sperry worked as a security guard and emergency medical technician for Securitas Security Services. Sperry was assigned to a steel finishing plant, and claims she was systematically underpaid and denied adequate breaks and meals. The basis of Sperry’s claims stem from the company’s failure to pay her for all the hours in which she worked 24-hour shifts. The company had deducted several hours of pay for “sleep time” or” downtime,” even though Sperry was on call and required to remain on the work premises and to respond within two minutes to any emergency that occurred during her downtime. Sperry often received several emergency calls during her downtime and breaks, which she claims interfered with her freedom to engage in personal activities such as eating, exercising, sleeping and showering.
Sperry sued Securitas for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and claimed she was not paid overtime at a premium wage, as required for the overtime hours she worked. The security employer filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that Sperry was not entitled to compensation for her downtime. Securitas argued that Sperry agreed in her employment contract that the 4-hour block of “downtime” would not be compensable. Further, the defendant argued that Sperry worked under those terms for several years, which evidenced her assent to the agreement.
The federal district court denied the defendant’s motion for partial summary judgment. The district court held that the presence of an employment agreement does not dictate whether the downtime or on-duty meal time was compensable, even if the employer proves the employee continued to willingly do the work under the agreed upon terms. The district court held the FLSA would have little weight if an employer could force employees to assent to unlawful compensation schemes and then use their assent against them to deny the statute’s protection. The district court held there were genuine issues of fact as to whether Sperry was covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement, which would preclude the payment of overtime.
This case illustrates that the existence of an employment agreement does not dictate whether the time spent on call or during downtime for employees who are on 24-hour call is compensable even if the employer shows the employee willingly engaged in the work under the agreed upon terms.
Sperry v. Securitas Security Services USA Inc., No. 13-0906, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, April 25, 2014.
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