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Wage & Hour Law Update

Illinois Federal Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Effort To Breath Life Into “Gap Time” Recovery Under FLSA

The ubiquity of class and collective action lawsuits under the FLSA and state wage and hour laws requires employers to remain ever vigilant with respect to their wage practices. The ferocity of the plaintiffs’ bar is such that even seemingly settled FLSA doctrine is subject to attack. Recently, a federal district court in Illinois rejected one such attack. Brown v. Lululemon Athletica, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18217 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 24, 2011). 

Lululemon concerned typical “off-the-clock” allegations, namely that the plaintiff sales clerk for the Defendant exercise apparel retailer was required to put in extra hours of work performing tasks for which she was not compensated but which Plaintiff alleged were all for the employer’s benefit and thus, compensable time. However, plaintiff did not allege that such activities pushed her over the statutory threshold for overtime of 40 hours in a workweek, or that by adding such unpaid hours to her total hours worked her rate of pay (as measured by her compensation divided by hours worked) fell below the minimum wage. Rather, plaintiff sought compensation for this as “gap time”, the time between her paid hours of work (which were under 40) and her actual hours of work based on these additional tasks (which were greater, but also under 40). 

Collecting more than a dozen cases from around the country (including a number of appellate decisions), the court rejected this claim, noting that Plaintiff sought to rely on a minority position permitting gap time claims within the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals (which does not encompass Illinois). The court did note that where an overtime event has occurred, an employee can receive compensation for both gap time and overtime hours. Id. at 14-15, citing 29 C.F.R. § 778.315. 

Lululemon demonstrates a stark reality: employees and their counsel continue to bring wage claims in the face of contrary authority. Absent emphatic direction from either the relevant Circuit court or the United States Supreme Court (which has issued very few decisions addressing the FLSA), employers must remain proactive in this area, and be prepared to defend claims as they arise. Furthermore, state law may provide a cause of action for unpaid gap time. The best advice is to always act with caution.