MECHANIC'S TESTIMONY ALONE IS ENOUGH TO SECURE JURY TRIAL ON HIS OVERTIME CLAIM

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An auto mechanic who claimed that he regularly worked over 65 to 68 hours per week for which he received no overtime pay may proceed with his claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act, even though he presented no evidence other than his own testimony, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled June 1 in Moran v. Al Basit LLC.

Reversing summary judgment for an auto repair shop, the Sixth Circuit found that the mechanic’s testimony alone was sufficient to defeat his employer's motion for summary judgment even if it “may lack precision.” 

The defense bar has reacted with dismay, asserting that the ruling will make it nearly impossible to keep workers’ FLSA overtime claims from getting to a jury, thereby increasing the risk for businesses and the cost of defending such cases. There is also the worry that other circuits may adopt similar rulings.

The plaintiffs’ bar, not surprisingly, has hailed the ruling as reaffirming the statutory duty placed on employers to maintain accurate wage and hour records and that employees rarely keep detailed records.

Hours Worked In Dispute

The mechanic based his estimate that he worked 65 to 68 hours per week on a weekly schedule that required him to arrive at 7:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the shop opened, and to stay  until “the work was completed,” typically around 6:30 pm or 7:00 pm on  weekdays. He also testified that he worked from 7:30 am to 4:30 or 5:00 pm on Saturday and that he sometimes worked on Sunday.

The auto shop claimed that the mechanic was hired to work thirty hours per week for $300 weekly pay and produced an affidavit from the shop manager that the mechanic never worked more than 30 hours in a week. The shop produced the mechanic’s pay stubs and time sheets that were handwritten by the shop manager, who claimed that he tracked employees' work hours by watching security camera footage to determine their arrival and departure time. 

Mechanic’s Testimony Alone Creates Genuine Dispute  

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted the auto shop summary judgment, noting that the mechanic’s evidence “consists solely of his own somewhat vague deposition testimony” as to his hours and that he offered no basis for finding that the shop’s time sheets were “false” and “made solely to substantiate [its] claim.”

The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the mechanic’s testimony alone was sufficient to defeat the shop’s motion for summary judgment. The appeals court noted that his testimony “coherently describes his weekly work schedule” which he used “to estimate a standard work week of sixty-five to sixty-eight hours.” 

While this testimony “may lack precision,” the appeals court noted that “we do not require employees to recall their schedules with perfect accuracy in order to survive a motion for summary judgment.” The employer, it stated, has the duty under § 11(c) of the FLSA to keep proper records of wages and hours and employees seldom keep such records themselves.

The company argued that the claimant’s testimony was inconsistent with the time sheets it provided. “But these timesheets do not amount to objective incontrovertible evidence of [the mechanic’s] hours worked,” the appellate court said, noting that he denied the validity of the company's handwritten time sheets and argued that his managers sanctioned his overtime work.

“Whether his testimony is credible is a separate consideration that is inappropriate to resolve at the summary judgment stage,” the court added. The court also left to the jury the validity of the employer’s timesheets, which it noted showed that the claimant “worked exactly” 30 hours per week, “despite his schedule varying notably from week to week.”

Takeaways

What are the takeaways from this case? Does it mean that any non-exempt employee merely has to testify that the employer’s timekeeping records are inaccurate to avoid summary judgment and go to trial? I suppose that is possible, but it doesn’t seem likely, given the court’s uneasiness with the idea of the manager handwriting employees’ timesheets, and the court’s observation that the mechanic “coherently described his weekly work schedule” and used this to estimate his weekly hours.

Would the outcome be the same if the mechanic’s testimony was fundamentally conflicted and did not coherently describe his schedule? Perhaps not. Would the shop have been denied summary judgment if it was the employee who handwrote his timesheets or if he had been required to attest to their accuracy? Probably not. 

The case brings home once again that employers have an obligation under the FLSA to maintain accurate wage and hour records.  It should make those employers who do not utilize a structured, reliable timekeeping system shudder. 

It likely will spur more employers to change how their employees’ work hours are recorded and verified.  At the very least, more employers will be requiring their employees to sign off on their time sheets before sending them to payroll. And you can bet that employee’s lawyers will be on the lookout for those firms that fail to use a reliable system.

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