Court denies summary judgment based on MCA exemption

One of the FLSA’s exemptions that has seen the most litigation in recent years is the motor carrier exemption.  We have covered these developments in this blog.  You can read about prior articles on this subject here, here and here.  A federal court in Florida recently issued an opinion on the MCA exemption, denying an employer’s motion for summary judgment.  

Vertical Reality manufactures, sells, and distributes durable entertainment and amusement equipment used as attractions at public gatherings, such as fairs, festivals, and amusement parks. The equipment is heavy, and typically 16 to 48 feet long and weighs between 500 and 16,000 pounds. Vertical Reality hired drivers to transport the equipment to buyers. Vertical Reality is registered with the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”) and has a DOT motor carrier identification number. Vertical Reality purchased a flatbed truck for drivers to transport the equipment. The flatbed truck has a gross vehicle weight of 33,000 pounds and requires a commercial driver’s license (“CDL”) to drive across state lines.

Two of Vertical Reality’s drivers filed suit, alleging that they were misclassified as independent contractors and denied overtime pay.  Vertical Reality claimed that even if they were employees, they were exempt under the MCA.  

The Court first addressed Vertical Reality’s arguments that the workers were independent contractors.  The Court found that fact issues precluded summary judgment.  The Court cited evidence that the company controlled the workers’ assignments, trained them, that the workers worked for long periods for the company, and that the workers relied on the company for assignments.  As such, it denied summary judgment on the independent contractor issue.  

The Court next addressed the MCA exemption.  There was no dispute that the workers drove vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds, which were subject to the jurisdiction of the DOT.  However, the plaintiffs argued that the “small vehicle exception” applied to the workers.  

The TCA’s “small vehicle” exception, which broadens the FLSA’s overtime requirements to any “covered employee,” limits the application of the motor carrier exemption. Pub. L. No. 110-244, 122 Stat. 1572, 1620, Title III, § 306(a) (2008). Under the “small vehicle” exception, a “covered employee” is an individual:

(1) who is employed by a motor carrier or motor private carrier . . .;

(2) whose work, in whole or in part, is defined—

(A) as that of a driver, driver’s helper, loader, or mechanic; and

(B) as affecting the safety of operation of motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less in transportation on public highways in interstate or foreign commerce . . .; and

(3) who performs duties on motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.

Id. § 306(c). Accordingly, “the Motor Carrier Exemption does not apply to a driver . . . in any workweek in which their work affects the safe, interstate operation of motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less.” Santana v. Lykes Exclusive, LP, No. 12-CIV-22013, 2013 WL 1001850, at *3 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 13, 2013). Those drivers are instead covered employees under the FLSA and are therefore entitled to overtime compensation. Id.

The workers claimed that they drove their own vehicles when performing work for the company.  The Court found that the record was inconclusive as to how much time the plaintiff spent driving vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds.  As such, the Court found that it could not “make a finding as a matter of law whether Plaintiffs were covered employees under the TCA.”  Because genuine issues of material fact remained regarding the small vehicle exception, the Court denied summary judgment on the MCA exemption.  

This case is another reminder that the parties should develop evidence in discovery regarding how often the plaintiffs drove large versus small vehicles when performing their job duties.  Failure to do so may result in the case going to trial.  If you have been denied overtime pay, speak with an experienced overtime attorney as soon as possible to learn of your legal rights. Josh Borsellino is an experienced overtime attorney.  If you have questions about overtime pay, call Josh Borsellino at 817.908.9861 or email him here for a free, no-obligation consultation about your overtime matter.  

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