Pennsylvania County’s Overtime ‘Morass’ Not Willful

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By Jon Steingart

A Pennsylvania county isn’t subject to increased liability for its failure to track employees’ work hours because its record-keeping error wasn’t willful, a federal appeals court ruled ( Souryavong v. Lackawanna County , 2017 BL 331645, 3d Cir., No. 15-03895, 9/20/17 ).

A willful violation can be costlier for an employer because it extends the recovery period for a federal overtime claim from two years to three.

The employees worked multiple jobs for Lackawanna County, which failed to aggregate workers’ hours across the positions in determining whether they were entitled to time-and-a-half pay when they worked more than 40 hours in a week.

There was evidence that the county made bureaucratic errors that could be attributed to “government morass,” but its failure to pay correctly doesn’t rise to a level of “recklessness or ill will” that may demonstrate willfulness, Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie wrote Sept. 20 for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

“We conceded early on in the litigation that it was an oversight,” Harry Coleman, an attorney in Carbondale, Pa., who represented the county, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 20. In order to show willfulness, the employees had to demonstrate “some kind of personal animus, which was totally lacking here,” he said.

The workers’ attorney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Sept. 20.

The appeals court decision affirmed a lower court’s ruling for the county on the question of willfulness. Judges Thomas L. Ambro and L. Felipe Restrepo joined the opinion.

Cynthia Pollick with the Employment Law Firm in Pittston, Pa., represented the workers. Harry Coleman, an attorney in Carbondale, Pa., represented the county.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at

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