Maryland Court Allows Satellite TV Installers Wage & Hours Claims to Proceed

Randi Klein Hyatt
Randi Klein Hyatt

Maryland’s federal court recently permitted a collective action brought pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to proceed to trial. In Butler, et al. v. Directsat USA, LLC, et. al. Jeffrey Butler filed suit on behalf of himself and other similarly situated satellite installation technicians pursuant to the FLSA, as well as Maryland’s Wage and Hour Law, Maryland’s Wage Payment and Collection Law and the District of Columbia’s Minimum Wage Law. The bulk of the Court’s opinion addresses the FLSA claims, and clarifies important issues concerning the FLSA about which Maryland employers should be aware.

Defendants argued that Butler’s claim should be dismissed because he failed to comply with the applicable statute of limitations. Because Butler failed to file an “opt-in” to the collective FLSA action, his employer argued that his claim was time barred notwithstanding the fact that he is a named plaintiff in the action. In an FLSA collective action, an individual plaintiff, like Butler, must affirmatively opt-in to the action in order to toll limitations. While a plaintiff will typically file a separate consent stating that he or she is opting in to the action, no specific form is required by statute. Noting the FLSA’s two-tiered statute of limitations (two years for typical violations, three years for willful violations), the Court ruled that Butler’s answers to interrogatories and declaration met the opt-in requirement. Important to the Court’s analysis, and perhaps saving Butler’s claim, is the fact that he had previously opted in to an identical action against the same Defendants. The Court credited Butler with the time he had been involved in the other case and added additional time for him to opt-in to the present action.

The Court next turned to Defendants’ argument that they did not have knowledge of Butler’s overtime work because Butler failed to follow Defendants’ own time reporting procedures. While other federal circuits have dismissed FLSA claims based on the employee’s failure to utilize stated time reporting procedures, the Fourth Circuit has not taken such a strong stance. Based on the record before it, the Court ruled that there were sufficient factual disputes as to whether Defendants had either actual or constructive notice of Butler’s alleged overtime and, thus, could be potentially liable under the FLSA.

The Court also examined, in the context of the Portal to Portal Act (which relieves employers of the obligation to pay overtime for employees traveling to or from their principal activities), several specific activities Butler claims gives rise to added compensation. Contrary to Butler’s arguments, the Court ruled that time spent reading emails and mapping and prioritizing routes, as well as time spent on vehicle maintenance and loading and unloading Butler’s vehicle, was not compensable.

Finally, the Court ruled that Butler’s claims for time spent pre-calling customers and completing paperwork should be examined in the aggregate, thus rejecting

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