From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...
Maine dairy delivery drivers—and serial comma proponents—scored a win when a federal appeals court ruled that ambiguity in a state wage-and-hour exemption revives their overtime claims ( O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy , 1st Cir., No. 16-1901, 3/13/17 ).
The decision is a “major ruling” in Maine, where there’s not much case law for the state overtime statute, attorney David G. Webbert of Johnson, Webbert & Young in Augusta, Maine, told Bloomberg BNA March 14.
Webbert is one of four lawyers representing about 75 dairy delivery drivers who brought federal and state overtime claims against Oakhurst Dairy and Dairy Farmers of America Inc. in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The drivers alleged that they worked about 50 to 60 hours per week with no overtime pay.
Maine law provides an overtime exemption for employees whose work includes “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment and distribution of” certain perishable foods.
The lack of a comma after “shipment” makes it unclear whether “distribution” is a standalone exempt activity or the word merely describes a type of exempt packing, the First Circuit said, discussing a number of linguistic conventions.
If “distribution” were considered an exempt activity, the drivers would lose their overtime claims because delivering dairy would qualify as “distribution.”
But the statutory text doesn’t make that clear, the court said in its March 13 ruling. And a look at the exemption’s purpose and legislative history also doesn’t resolve the ambiguity, it said.
Given the remedial purpose of the state’s overtime law, the court ultimately sided with the drivers’ stance that “distribution” modifies the word “packing” and isn’t a separate exempted activity.
The ruling, which reversed dismissal of the drivers’ claims, makes it clear that any ambiguity in Maine’s overtime provisions should be construed in favor of employees to fulfill the law’s purpose of paying workers fairly, Webbert said.
The court “pretty vigorously” applied that broad principle, which can also be used in future Maine overtime cases outside of the delivery driver context, he said.
Attorneys representing the dairy companies didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s March 14 request for comment.
Judge David J. Barron wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Sandra Lynch and Kermit Lipez.
Webbert, Carol J. Garvan, Jeffrey N. Young and Roberta L. de Araujo of Johnson, Webbert & Young represented the drivers. Patrick F. Hulla, Jennifer K. Oldvader, David L. Schenberg and Danielle Y. Vanderzanden of Ogletree Deakins in Kansas City, St. Louis and Boston represented the dairy companies.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at email@example.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)