SW Legal studies in Business

Willful Violation of Overtime Rules Allows Higher Damages

Appeals court held that it was for a jury to determine if an employer violated the law regarding overtime pay in a willful manner, which allows higher damages. It is also for a jury to determine if an employer falsely evaded overtime obligations by claiming seasonal operation status.

Topic Employment Law
Key Words Overtime Wages; Damages
C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Kennel Club ran a winter greyhound racing season from 1955 to 2001 near Orlando. Another nearby facility operated a summer season of greyhound racing. In 2001 the clubs came under partial joint ownership. Employees would often work at one track and shift to the other track during the second season, but were employed by separate companies. Perez worked there for two years then sued one club and the owner for willful violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for not paying him overtime wages (one and one-half time) when he worked more than 40 hours per week. The defendants claimed exemption from the FLSA, which does not apply to seasonal operations that are open for less than six months. The jury held for Perez. It found the operations to really be one, not two, so the seasonal operation exemption did not apply. It also found the violation to be willful, which would allow higher damages. The judge overturned that part of the jury verdict, finding the violation was not willful as the owner of the clubs acted on advice of counsel with respect to wages. Parties appealed.

Decision Affirmed in part; reversed in part. It was for the jury to determine if there were two separate employers or if Perez really worked for only one employer, which would eliminate the seasonal exemption. The jury had sufficient evidence to find that the owner acted willfully in violation of the FSLA for purposes of damages, which allows for higher damages. A jury finding on this issue precludes the trial judge from a finding of good faith by the employer.
Citation Perez v. Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club, ---F.3d--- (2008 WL 220070, 11th Cir., 2008)

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