In the latest judicial analysis of wage-and-hour plaintiffs’ ongoing quest to hold larger entities liable as “joint employers” of a vendor’s employees, the Court of Appeal for the Eleventh Circuit has affirmed DHL Express’ victory in an Alabama federal court on this issue. Layton v. DHL Express United States, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 13978 (11th Cir. July 9, 2012).

Layton concerned the work of driver/couriers employed by third-party contractor Sky Land Express, Inc. to deliver packages in Alabama. Sky Land and DHL entered into a cartage agreement under which Sky Land was obligated to employ drivers as well as individuals performing other functions, including supervisors and dispatchers. Sky Land owned its own fleet of vehicles, though it operated out of a warehouse owned by DHL. The district court found that the arrangement between the parties did not create a joint employer relationship, because “the contract with Sky Land allowed DHL to exercise only the minimal supervision necessary to monitor compliance with the contract” and the “undisputed facts [led] to the conclusion that if plaintiffs were employed by anybody, they were employed by Sky Land.” 

In reaching its decision, the Circuit court first clarified that the operative joint employer test within the Circuit remains the 8 factor test set forth in Aimable v. Long & Scott Farms, 20 F.3d 434 (11th Cir. 1994)(as juxtaposed with the test recently laid out by the Third Circuit), and then applied these 8 factors to the relationship between DHL and the drivers: 

·         The degree of control of the workers;

·         The degree of supervision, direct or indirect, of the work;

·         The power to determine the pay rates or the methods of payment of the workers;

·         The right, directly or indirectly, to hire, fire, or modify the employment conditions of the workers;

·         Preparation of payroll and the payment of wages;

·         Ownership of the facilities where work occurred;

·         Performance of a specialty job integral to the business; and,

·         The relative investments of DHL and Sky Land in the enterprise.

Following this analysis, the court reiterated “that the 8 factors of Aimable are only useful to us to the extent they shed light on the existence of economic dependence… [and] the economic reality of the total circumstances.” Because DHL tasked Sky Land with only “macro-level goals”, it was not a joint employer. 

Layton joins the Third Circuit’s decision in In re Enterprise as recent victories for entities fending off allegations of joint employment. Joint employer risks under the gamut of employment laws, including the FLSA and state wage and hour laws, remain ever present.