The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently held that a claim brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") may not proceed when the employee fails to provide evidence of actual damages. In Carmody v. Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, No. 12-3051, police officers sued under the FLSA alleging they were given flextime or time off rather than receiving overtime compensation for hours worked over 40.
Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, parties must make initial disclosures, including a computation of damages which must be supplemented when new information comes to light. During discovery, the officers confirmed that flextime was a common practice, but did not articulate the number of uncompensated hours or the amount of money they were allegedly owed.
At the close of discovery, the City moved for summary judgment arguing that the officers could not satisfy their evidentiary burden because they did not present any evidence of damages. The officers attempted to defeat summary judgment by attaching affidavits that, for the first time, provided precise estimations of overtime payments allegedly owed to them. The District Court held that the officers unjustifiably failed to comply with their discovery obligations and struck the officers' affidavits. The Court then granted the City's summary judgment motion because, without the affidavits, the Court held the Officers failed to satisfy their burden of showing "the amount and extent of their alleged overtime work."
In making its decision, the District Court considered the timing of the evidence extremely prejudicial to the City because the City's entire litigation posture might have been different if the numbers had been offered earlier. The District Court also believed that admitting the affidavits would prolong the litigation as it would require reopening discovery and deposing each officer a second time.
The officers appealed contending that they produced sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find the amount of damages by just and reasonable inference, even without those affidavits. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the District Court's decision. The Court noted that when an employer fails to maintain accurate time records, an employee has a relaxed burden to prove the extent of uncompensated work. However, the employee still has a duty to show that work was performed and he or she was not compensated. The Eighth Circuit held that even though the City failed to provide accurate time records, the officers still did not meet their burden because they failed to provide any evidence of actual damages. Without record evidence of a single hour worked over 40 hours that did not receive overtime wages or flextime, the officers' unsupported estimations of unpaid hours were not enough.
Carmody provides an important lesson to employers defending against overtime claims brought pursuant to the FLSA – mainly, ensuring that written discovery requests and disclosures are consistently supplemented and to pay particular attention to plaintiffs' disclosures, written discovery responses, and deposition testimony to determine if they have made specific allegations on damages as required by the law. If plaintiffs have not sufficiently met their obligation to identify damages with particularity, employers may be able to dismiss claims through a well crafted summary judgment motion.
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Every FLSA claim is different; however, Polsinelli's Labor and Employment attorneys have extensive litigation experience in assisting clients with the FLSA and its interpretations under the law. If you have further questions about the FLSA or other wage and hour laws, you can contact Robert J. Hingula or other members of our labor and employment group who regularly handle FLSA cases.