In this post, we discussed two different courts’ analyses of hospital plaintiffs’ attempts to seek conditional certification of their claims that they were not paid for allegedly working meal periods due to the employers’ use of an auto-deduct for meal periods. In an opinion addressing such a claim on the merits (as opposed to the lower standard applicable to determining appropriateness of conditional certification of an FLSA collective action), a Detroit federal court rejected, on summary judgment, such an assertion. Deppen v. Detroit Med. Ctr., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78247 ( E.D. Mich. July 19, 2011).
In Deppen, the plaintiff nurse anesthetist claimed that the use of an auto-deduct for meal breaks, coupled with the fact that supervisors recorded employees’ time, demonstrated that she was not paid in a compliant fashion for 30 minute meal periods deducted per shift. After observing that defendant had demonstrated there were numerous work weeks where plaintiff either: 1) did not work over 40 hours (thus had no claim for gap time under the FLSA as discussed in this post); or 2) was overpaid for time she did not work, the court went on to determine the plaintiff had failed to “meet her burden showing that she performed substantial duties and spent her meal time predominantly for [the hospital’s] benefit.” Id. at *18 citing Myracle v. General Electric Co., 1994 U.S. App LEXIS 23307 (6th Cir. Aug. 23, 1994). The court further observed there was “adequate staffing to cover the patient caseload and allow the OB CRNA’s to take their meal breaks.”
Wage/hour plaintiffs continue to regularly allege that automatic, systemic practices, such as an auto-deduct for meal periods or payment based on a set schedule such as 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m, run afoul of the FLSA and applicable state laws. While potentially defensible, such policies and practices will always expose employers to greater risk of an allegation that wages paid did not correlate to actual hours of work. Employers should scrutinize such practices closely, and take additional measures to ensure compliance as necessary.