Overtime Appeal Succeeds for Racetrack Employees Inappropriately Classified as Exempt

The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that three employees of a horse racing and gambling center in West Virginia were incorrectly classified as exempt from overtime eligibility, the West Virginia Record reported May 4. John Desmond, Dana Witherspoon and M. Larry Sanders sued Charles Town Races & Slots, alleging that they routinely worked more than 40 hours per week, but had never been paid overtime for it. The ruling allows them to collect years of unpaid overtime wages.

All three plaintiffs were employed as “Racetrack officials,” which, on race days, meant that they served as judges, clerks of scale and horse identifiers. On days with no race at the track, they handled clerical duties such as putting together racing programs and tracking changes in riders. During their trial, the racetrack argued that these clerical duties meant they were correctly classified as exempt from overtime, because those duties were required by state law, and thus indispensable general business operations. This would make them administrators exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The federal district court agreed.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed that ruling, saying the trial court interpreted the law incorrectly. The legal indispensability of a employee’s job does not influence whether that employee is eligible for overtime, the court wrote. Instead, it reminded the lower court of the established test for whether an employee is exempt, laid out in the Fair Labor Standards Act. An employee is exempt from overtime rules as an administrator if he or she:

  • earns $455 or more per week;
  • primarily performs office work or non-manual labor related to the management of the employer or its general business operations; and
  • exercises discretion and independent judgment in matters of significance.

The work the plaintiffs did, especially on race days, did not meet all three parts of that test, the court wrote. They were not supervisors and they did not make high-level decisions about the business. Thus, they were non-exempt employees entitled to overtime for each minute they spent on the clock after an ordinary 40-hour week.

Misclassifying employees eligible for overtime as “exempt” is a common strategy employers use to illegally avoid paying overtime wages. Others include requiring or pressuring workers to work off the clock and simply shaving time off employee time cards. The overtime attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum LLP have years of experience fighting these and other illegal tactics by employers. Our wage and hour lawyers also handle related complaints, such as denying employees their legally mandated breaks, illegal tip pooling or “tip outs” of managers and paying employees less than the minimum wage for their states and job categories. In a successful overtime lawsuit, you can win up to double the amount of the unpaid overtime you are owed, along with payment of attorney fees.

If you believe you and your colleagues are being exploited by your employer and you’d like to fight back, please contact the wage and hour attorneys at Joseph & Kirschenbaum via e-mail as soon as possible or call (212) 688-5640 from anywhere in the United States.