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Bretherick v. Crittenden County

March 21, 2007

ROBERT BRETHERICK AND LEON HALEY PLAINTIFFS
v.
CRITTENDEN COUNTY, ARKANSAS, A POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THE STATE OF ARKANSAS DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Leon Holmes United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Sixty-four present and former employees of Crittenden County, Arkansas, brought this suit on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated seeking overtime and minimum-wage compensation from the County under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Both Robert Bretherick and Leon Haley filed consents to join this action. The County settled the claims of all the other plaintiffs in this case, and now seeks summary judgment on Bretherick's and Haley's claims for overtime compensation. The plaintiffs have also filed a motion for summary judgment. A court should enter summary judgment if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986); Cheshewalla v. Rand & Son Constr. Co., 415 F.3d 847, 850 (8th Cir. 2005). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. For the following reasons, the County's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. The plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is denied.

I.

The following are the undisputed facts. Bretherick was employed by the County as the jail administrator for the Crittenden County Detention Center from February 1999 through September 2003. Bretherick's last day of work at the detention center was August 15, 2003. Bretherick was terminated on September 30, 2003. Shortly after Bretherick was terminated by the County, he sought compensation for overtime he had accumulated. County officials repeatedly told Bretherick that he was not legally entitled to compensation for any overtime he worked.

Haley was employed by the County beginning August 17, 1992. He was promoted to chief jailer at the detention center in December 2000. On his January 2002 timesheet, Haley had listed 176 hours of "COMP TIME" that he had previously accrued. According to Haley's timesheets, Haley accumulated an additional 62 hours of overtime from February 2002 to September 2002 and took 14 hours off of compensatory time.*fn1 Haley left his employment with the County on September 30, 2002. Beginning October 4, 2002, Haley was on active duty with the 216th Military Police Guard Company.

Both Bretherick and Haley filed their consents to join this action on December 15, 2005. They now allege that the County owes them overtime compensation for the time they worked at the detention center.

II.

The County argues that Bretherick's claim for unpaid overtime is barred by the FLSA's statute of limitations. Any action brought under the FLSA "shall be forever barred unless commenced within two years after the cause of action accrued, except that a cause of action arising out of a willful violation may be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrued."

29 U.S.C. § 255(a). A cause of action "accrues" under the FLSA when an employer fails to pay the required compensation for any workweek at the regular pay day for the period in which the workweek ends. Mid-Continent Petroleum Corp. v. Keen, 157 F.2d 310, 316 (8th Cir. 1946). An employee "commences" a cause of action under the FLSA when he files his written consent with the court if the employee's name does not appear on the complaint. 29 U.S.C. § 256(b).

Here, the last day Bretherick worked, and therefore the last day the County might have failed to pay him overtime, was August 15, 2003. The record does not contain the date of the regular pay day for the workweek ending on August 15. However, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Bretherick, the regular pay day for that week could not have been any later than the end of the month, or shortly thereafter.*fn2 Because Bretherick's name did not appear on the complaint, his suit commenced when he filed his consent with the Court on December 15, 2005, more than two years after his cause of action accrued. Thus, Bretherick's action for unpaid overtime compensation is barred by the FLSA, unless the County wilfully violated the statute.

Bretherick argues that the County did wilfully violate the FLSA. To show that an FLSA violation is willful, an employee must show that the employer was more than negligent. Neither an employer's general knowledge about the statute's potential applicability, nor an employer's lack of a "reasonable basis for believing that it was complying" with the FLSA, is by itself sufficient to demonstrate an employer's willfulness. McLaughlin v. Richland Shoe Co., 486 U.S. 128, 133, 134, 108 S.Ct. 1677, 1681, 1682, 100 L.Ed. 2d 115 (1988); see also Samuels v. Kansas City Mo. Sch. Dist., 437 F.3d 797, 803 (8th Cir. 2006). Rather, an FLSA violation is only willful if the employer "either knew or showed reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited by the statute." McLaughlin, 486 U.S. at 133, 108 S.Ct. at 1681.

There is no evidence to show that the County had knowledge that its failure to pay Bretherick overtime violated the FLSA. On the contrary, the evidence shows that the County has consistently believed that it was acting in accordance with the law by denying Bretherick overtime pay. Bretherick in his own affidavit wrote that county officials repeatedly told him that he was not "legally entitled" to compensation for overtime. Consistent with those statements, the County vigorously argues that Bretherick's duties as jail administrator exempted him from the overtime provisions of the FLSA. Perhaps most telling, though, is Bretherick's September 30, 2002, letter to Sheriff Busby, Bretherick's superior. In that letter, Bretherick wrote that he had told Haley that Haley's position as chief jailor -- a lower-level position than jail administrator -- precluded Haley from earning compensatory time due to its title and salary level. No evidence shows that the County believed at the time that it failed to pay overtime to Bretherick that it was violating the FLSA. For the same reasons, Bretherick has failed to present evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the County showed reckless disregard for Bretherick's statutory rights when it failed to pay him overtime.

In the alternative, Bretherick argues that the County should be equitably estopped from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense. Bretherick bases his equitable estoppel argument on the fact that County officials repeatedly told him that he was not legally entitled to compensation for overtime. Bretherick's equitable estoppel argument fails, however, because "[t]he fact that [an employer took] a different legal position [from an employee] on entitlement to overtime pay is not enough to warrant tolling." Christofferson v. United States, 64 Fed. Cl. 316, 327 (2005); accord Viciedo v. New Horizons Computer Learning Ctr. of Columbus, Ltd., 246 F. Supp. 2d 886, 904 (S.D. Ohio 2003). The County's explicit denial of Bretherick's request for overtime compensation put Bretherick on notice that they were ...


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