Sleeper berth time still questionable in P.A.M. Transportation wage lawsuit
January 28, 2020
Shortly after truckers for P.A.M. Transportation scored a partial victory in a wage lawsuit, the company yet again was hit with another order not in its favor. The latest ruling centers on sleeper berth time.
On Jan. 24, a federal district court denied Tontitown, Ark.-based P.A.M. Transportation’s motion to decertify a class of truckers. The trucking company claims a U.S. Department of Labor opinion letter from July 2019 affirms its policy to not compensate sleeper berth time.
A week before its recent ruling, the court denied summary judgment for truckers on the claim of sleeper berth time. More specifically, truckers argue the maximum amount of time an employer may dock an employee who is on duty for more than 24 hours for time spent in a sleeper berth is eight hours per day. The remaining 16 hours is work time and must be paid, minus meal periods.
The court ruled that 29 Code of Federal Regulations §785.41, which addresses work performed while traveling, is silent when it comes to whether or not sleeper berth time can be counted as hours worked.
The code states:
“Any work which an employee is required to perform while traveling must, of course, be counted as hours worked. An employee who drives a truck, bus, automobile, boat or airplane, or an employee who is required to ride therein as an assistant or helper, is working while riding, except during bona fide meal periods or when he is permitted to sleep in adequate facilities furnished by the employer.”
However, the court pointed out that 29 CFR §785.22(a) resolves that ambiguity:
“Where an employee is required to be on duty for 24 hours or more, the employer and the employee may agree to exclude bona fide meal periods and a bona fide regularly scheduled sleeping period of not more than eight hours from hours worked, provided adequate sleeping facilities are furnished by the employer and the employee can usually enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep. If sleeping period is of more than eight hours, only eight hours will be credited. Where no expressed or implied agreement to the contrary is present, the eight hours of sleeping time and lunch periods constitute hours worked.”
P.A.M. Transportation points to an opinion letter published by the Wage and Hour Division of Department of Labor on July 22, 2019.
That letter reversed prior opinions that allowed sleeper berth time to be compensable:
“WHD has concluded that this interpretation is unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of §785.41, under which the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively nonworking time that is not compensable. WHD regulations draw a clear distinction between on-duty sleeping time and nonworking time when the employer permits the employee to sleep in adequate facilities. The first (on-duty sleeping time) is compensable because it is on-duty – except under certain circumstances during on-duty periods of 24 hours or more – while the second is non-compensable because it is presumptively off-duty. This presumption – that nonworking time in which the employee is relieved of all duties is not compensable – holds true regardless of whether the truck is moving or stationary.”
However, the federal court judge determined the opinion letter is irrelevant.
“Since the court found no reason to defer to DOL previously, it need not defer to a novel WHD opinion now,” Judge Timothy Brooks opined. “Therefore, the court will not revisit its holding interpreting the DOL regulations.”
On Jan. 17, Judge Brooks granted P.A.M. Transport drivers partial summary judgment.
Drivers are entitled to be paid minimum wage for all hours logged as “driving” or “on duty not driving,” according to the court order.
The court also granted summary judgment on the claim that truckers should be paid for short breaks of 20 minutes or less, and that they be allowed to recoup Comdata and pay advance fees that resulted in drivers earning less than minimum wage.
However, the lawsuit will still proceed with other claims. The court denied summary judgment for claims that truckers must be paid minimum wage for 16 hours of every day on tour. Drivers also are not automatically entitled to damages stemming from alleged violations of last-payment rules. Also, the court did not decide whether P.A.M. Transport’s violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act were willful or a good-faith error.