U.S. Supreme Court’s Kavanaugh says overtime pay rules may be invalid

  • The challenge to exemptions from overtime pay would be “strong”, according to justice
  • The case involves an oil rig worker who earned $200,000 a year
  • The appeal does not question the rules, only the way they are applied

(Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared on Wednesday to invite a legal challenge to World War II regulations exempting some workers from overtime pay, in a case involving a flatbed supervisor. -form oil that was paid at a daily rate but earned more than $200,000 a year.

Kavanaugh, a member of the court’s conservative wing, said during oral argument that the US Department of Labor’s regulations appear inconsistent with the law they are supposed to enforce, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The case brought by oil and gas services company Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc challenges the way overtime regulations are enforced, but not their overall validity.

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“If the statutory argument isn’t there, I’m sure someone will raise it because it’s strong,” Kavanaugh said.

Helix is ​​appealing a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said a former supervisor, Michael Hewitt, was entitled to overtime pay because he was paid a daily rate and not at a regular salary while working 84 hours a week.

In an amicus brief supporting Helix, the American Petroleum Institute and other trade groups said per diem rates are common in the oil and gas industry, and ruling for Hewitt would expose the companies to a deluge of class action lawsuits. .

The FLSA says workers with “executive, administrative and professional” duties are exempt from mandatory overtime pay. A 1940 regulation states that highly paid workers – currently defined as those earning $107,000 a year or more – are presumably exempt as long as they are paid at least $455 a week in salary.

A separate rule says the exemption can apply when workers are paid a daily rate, as long as they are guaranteed $455 per week “paid on a salary basis.”

Paul Clement of Clement & Murphy, which represents Helix, argued Wednesday that because Hewitt received a daily rate of $963 and was guaranteed at least that much pay each week he worked, and earned more than $200,000 a year, he met the conditions for the high-paid worker exemption and the second rule did not apply at all.

Hewitt’s attorney, Ed Sullivan of Oberti Sullivan, countered that the daily rate of pay rule applied because Hewitt had never received a salary. And because he wasn’t guaranteed $455 a week in pay, he wasn’t exempt under the FLSA, Sullivan said.

The court’s liberal justices seemed to agree. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said the purpose of the regulations was to ensure workers receive predictable payments, regardless of income.

Conservative justices seemed more skeptical of Sullivan’s claims, suggesting the rules were inconsistent with each other and not meant to be applied in tandem.

Kavanaugh went further, telling Clement he thought both regulations might be invalid because of the various conditions they place on the broad exemption included in the RSA.

Clement, in response to a question from Kavanaugh, said he wasn’t aware of any pending cases challenging the settlement, but “you just asked a question about it, so someone will definitely bring it up. now”.

The case is Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc. v. Hewitt, United States Supreme Court, No. 21-984.

For Helix: Paul Clement of Clement & Murphy

For Hewitt: Samuel Kaplan of Boies Schiller Flexner and Ed Sullivan of Oberti Sullivan

For the Government: Anthony Yang of the United States Solicitor General’s Office

Read more:

Oil rig laborer paid by the day and not salaried by FLSA, due OT – 5th circuit

5th Circuit splits sharply finding supervisor deserves overtime

The US Supreme Court will decide when well-paid workers deserve overtime pay

US Department of Labor extends overtime pay to 1.3 million US workers

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Daniel Wiessner

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy development. He can be contacted at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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