Court rules in favor of oilfield drivers in overtime case

A federal judge in San Antonio has recently recommended that an employer’s request to dismiss claims brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act for unpaid overtime compensation be denied.  At issue in the case was whether a group of frack fuel drivers were entitled to overtime pay.  The defendant claimed that they were, and filed a motion for summary judgment. 

Plaintiff filed suit as a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) seeking unpaid overtime compensation on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated who are “Frack Fuel Drivers” employed by the Defendants, TFS Oilfield Services, LLC. The court conditionally certified a collective action on September 26, 2017. After such conditional certification, numerous additional plaintiffs opted into the lawsuit. 

FLSA Motor Carrier Act Exemption

Under the FLSA, the Motor Carrier Act (“MCA”) exemption provides that overtime pay is not required for “any employee with respect to whom the Secretary of Transportation has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service.” Traditionally, this meant that anyone who drove, loaded or rode in a vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds was exempt from overtime pay. However, there is an exception to the MCA, the small-vehicle exception. The small-vehicle exception makes the FLSA applicable to employees who perform certain duties on vehicles “weighing 10,000 pounds or less” regardless of whether the MCA exemption might otherwise apply. 

FLSA Small-Vehicle Exemption to the Motor Carrier Act

Plaintiffs and Defendants agree that the MCA exemption to the FLSA’s overtime requirements applies in this case, but Plaintiffs claim the small-vehicle exception to the MCA entitles them to overtime compensation.The Defendants claimed that the Plaintiffs are exempt from the overtime requirements of the FLSA under the MCA exemption. Specifically, the Defendants claim that the evidence fails to establish that the weight of the vehicles the Plaintiffs drove was 10,000 pounds or less and that these vehicles did not transport hazardous materials. The Plaintiffs and all other Frack Fuel Drivers claimed that they regularly loaded, drove or rode in Ford E-150 or E-250 passenger vans and Ford F-150 and F-250 crew cab trucks. Plaintiffs further stated that they loaded and operated these vans and trucks on both intrastate and interstate highways for purposes of Defendant’s business; that they engaged in these tasks every single week; and that these tasks could take as much as two hours a day. Plaintiffs have also stated that all E-150 and E-250 vans and all F-150 and F-250 trucks that they and all other Frack Fuel Drivers for Defendants worked on or drove had a gross vehicle weight rating (“GVWR”) of less than 10,000 pounds. 

The court is not persuaded by Defendants’ argument that they are entitled to summary judgment on the MCA exemption. As a result, the court denied the Defendants motion for summary judgment saying that “although it is undisputed that the MCA exemption to the FLSA’s overtime requirements applies in this case, a material issue of fact exists on the question of whether the small vehicle exception to the MCA exemption applies.” The court went on further and stated that the Plaintiffs have made numerous statements in their favor, including that they drove the vans and trucks; loaded and operated these vehicles on public highways; loaded equipment necessary for their jobs at the oil wells; that they used these vehicles to run work-related errands while at the well site or yard; and these tasks could take a much as two hours a day every single week. 

A jury should decide whether Plaintiffs’ work involved smaller vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less and whether these vehicles were used to transport hazardous materials. Thus, the case will proceed to trial, where the jury will determine the applicability of the exemption. This opinion is a victory for the oilfield workers, as it demonstrates that in many instances the applicability of the exemption is a fact issue that cannot be determined on summary judgment.

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About the author: Josh Borsellino is a Texas attorney who represents workers, particularly those in the oil and gas industry, for unpaid overtime claims.  Mr. Borsellino is admitted to practice in every federal district in Texas and regularly files cases in west Texas, east Texas and south Texas.   Over the past three years, Mr. Borsellino has filed dozens of lawsuits on behalf of oilfield workers and others in the oil and gas industry.  If you have questions regarding unpaid overtime, call Josh at 817.908.9861 or 432.242.7118.  Josh offers free consultations, and if he accepts an unpaid overtime case he handles it on a contingency basis, meaning that he charges the client nothing and only gets paid if there is a recovery by the client.

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