Deal Me In: Appellate Court Rules That Casino Trainees May Be Employees

Eric Paltell
Eric Paltell
04/29/2016

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that casino trainees may be employees entitled to compensation under the FLSA when they are attending a pre-hire “training school” at a local community college.  Harbourt v. PPE Casino Resorts Md. , LLC.  The Court reversed a lower court decision dismissing the trainees’ complaint, ruling that the facts plead in the complaint were sufficient to state a claim that the time spent in training primarily benefited the casino, not the trainees.

The case arose when the Maryland Live! Casino needed to quickly hire 830 dealers to begin operating table games in time for the April 2013 opening of the Casino. According to the Complaint, the Casino developed a free 12 week table game dealer school in conjunction with Anne Arundel Community College.  After reviewing applications from about 10,000 persons, the Casino selected approximately 830 to attend the dealer school. The complaint alleged that, at the school, the trainees received training unique to Maryland Live! table games, and that both the faculty and curriculum were supplied by the Casino.  While in class, students has no interaction with other students at the Community College, and part of the classroom time was spent filling out per-employment paperwork.

Under the FLSA (and Maryland Wage & Hour Law), time that persons spend in training may be compensable  when the employer is the primary beneficiary of the training.  In thiscase, the Casino argued that it received no benefit from the training because the table games were not even being operated at the time the school was being run. The Fourth Circuit rejected this argument, finding that the Casino’s position was no different from that of a restaurant training its staff in preparation for a grand opening. The court concluded that it was at least plausible that the Casino was deriving the immediate benefit of a trained and licensed staff that was ready to go on the day the Casino opened, thereby allowing the Casino to immediately capture revenue from patrons.

In light of the fact that the case was being decided at the motion to dismiss stage (where all allegations must be accepted as true), the appellate court ruled that it was improper for the trial court to rule that, as a matter of law, the trainees could not show that the Casino was the primary beneficiary of the time they spent in dealer school. As a result, the lower court ruling was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

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